An independent police watchdog in the United Kingdom found that black people are at least eight times more likely to be stopped and searched for cannabis and other contraband than white people in the U.K. The racial disparity persists despite the fact that white people are found with drugs at a higher rate.
The report, released by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICFRS), found this stark contrast in policing could be threatening public trust in law enforcement.
HM Inspector Mike Cunningham led the inspection of police services and he commented that an area of particular concern was “the continuing over-representation of black people in stop and search figures.” Cunningham added, “forces must be able to explain the reasons for any disparity if they are to enhance the trust and confidence of all communities.”
The details of the report specifically related to drugs showed 26 percent of blacks that were stopped in drug searches had illicit substances on them, compared to 33 percent of whites.
“As our members of LEAP UK can attest, racial disparity in law enforcement, unfortunately, does exist, and recent reports prove this,” said Jason Reed, executive director at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP UK) in an interview with Marijuana.com. “For too long, we’ve been aware of stark testimony from those who have been impacted by this policy, and the results are important to understand.”
Reed added that the unfortunate butterfly effects of these actions can be far reaching. “We’re putting a wedge between the police and communities, and this leads to large social fault lines,” he said.
“We’re finding that individuals and communities are increasingly cynical of law enforcement, often seeing them as persecutors over protection. This is all a result of our drug policies which inherently rely on racial and class profiling. We know that black people do not consume drugs more than white people, but a heavier onus and emphasis is placed on the shoulders of ethnic minorities.”
Based on these disparities, it’s clear that something must be done to eliminate the current problems within the system.
“Obviously we need to decriminalize and regulate cannabis in the long term,” said Reed. “We need to make sure that substances that may be popular amongst certain demographics are not arbitrarily stigmatized. But we immediately need to reform stop and search powers. The odor of cannabis should not be enough for what invariably becomes an intrusive procedure.”
Last year the College of Policing advised officers that the smell of cannabis on its own would not normally justify a stop and search procedure. The advice was met with a debate over social media by various members of U.K. law enforcement.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Whiting