Julian Hargreaves on his analysis of statistical data at a time of heightened anxieties around terrorist attacks and police reliance on extended powers
The British Journal of Criminology has published a new study of police stop and search within British Muslim communities and the analysis of statistical data collected by the Crime Survey of England and Wales between 2006 and 2011.
The primary aim of the study was to determine the extent to which Crime Survey data support allegations of police discrimination against British Muslim communities. The study represents the first of its kind to model large-scale police stop and search data from British Muslim communities. Previous research has tended to use data pertaining to ethnicity or anecdotal evidence.
Analysis revealed that being Muslim increased the likelihood of being subjected to a foot stop by only a very small amount (around one per cent) and actually decreased the likelihood of being subjected to a vehicle stop. However, once stopped, being Muslim increased the likelihood of being searched on foot by a factor of eight - more than for any other ethnic or religious group analysed in the study. Overall, the study revealed a more complex picture of police stop and search practices within British Muslim communities than has been asserted by academics, politicians and campaign groups.
I argue that the Crime Survey provides little evidential support for over-simplified accounts of stop and search within British Muslim communities. In other words, some conclusions from previous studies are supported, while others are challenged. I also argue that while the experiences of British African Caribbean communities might provide the basis for comparison, merely swapping the labels ‘Black’ and ‘Muslim’ may be of limited use and, furthermore, may risk stereotyping British Muslim communities.
However, I do point out that the data analysis also revealed discrepancies in police searches against British Muslim communities. It would appear from the data that concerns within British Muslim communities around the misuse of police stop and search powers are neither irrational nor unfounded. However, the incomplete nature of the data suggests the need for better police recording of stop and search.
I conclude that police forces would be well advised to further review their stop and search procedures with attention given to factors which trigger the use their powers. Police guidelines establish that reasonable suspicion cannot be determined by personal factors nor on assumptions about the differential involvement of certain social groups in criminal activity. The analysis reported in my study reveals the need for more training and monitoring work with police officers to ensure that ‘being Muslim’ remains insufficient grounds for any stop and search.
Julian Hargreaves is Research Fellow, The Woolf Institute, Cambridge. The complete article, 'Police Stop and Search Within British Muslim Communities: Evidence From the Crime Survey 2006–11', appears in The British Journal of Criminology.