Hackney gang cop: Stop and search works – we seized hundreds of knives last year
- Credit: Polly Hancock
Hackney gang cop Det Insp Paul Ridley tells the Gazette why he thinks stop and search works, as figures reveal one weapon is seized on the borough’s streets every day.
One in three suspects stopped and searched last year on the streets of Hackney was carrying a knife, leading to the seizure of 369 weapons.
Some 10 machetes, 21 hunting knives, 12 swords, 11 Rambo style knives, seven meat cleavers, and 15 combat knives were amongst the haul.
The Gazette visited Stoke Newington police station to see a small number of the knives being stored there until they are melted down and destroyed by the Met.
Det Insp Paul Ridley is keen to defend the controversial tactic.
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“If you read social media,” he said, “they often think we are unfairly discriminating with stop and search, but I can say that’s not the case.
“This is what we are dealing with every day.
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“People say: ‘Why are you stopping and searching kids?’ Well, because some kids are carrying these knives. ‘Why are you victimising people?’ We aren’t.
“We are doing intelligence-led stop and search against people we think are going to have a knife, and lo and behold 369 were seized last year, so we are targeting the right people.
“There is absolutely no excuse for carrying a knife in a suburban street in Hackney. You aren’t hunting in a forest.”
Some of the knives have plastic wrapped around the handles to conceal forensic evidence. Many of them are smaller, because they are easier to conceal.
One man was even found hiding a knife within his buttocks last week – which was only found during a strip search at the police station.
The day before, three criminals had been caught in possession of knives in the borough through stop and search tactics.
Official figures in 2017 showed black people were eight times as likely to be stopped and searched on Britain’s streets than white people, and that the gap is widening.
Data from London also showed a lower percentage of black people whose searches resulted in prosecution – 30pc, compared with 36pc of white people. Critics say that could indicate black people are being searched with less justification than white people.
Since 2014, police have been told they can only stop and search someone if there is reasonable grounds for suspicion. Police must be polite, explain to the suspect why they have been targeted, and record the exchange on body worn video cameras.
“We don’t want to abuse anyone or typecast anyone,” insisted Det Insp Ridley. “We just want to ensure more people don’t get hurt.”
He was behind the decision to up local stop and search powers on January 29 after a two gun shots were fired in Stoke Newington and the fourth fatal stabbing since December.
The legislation must be authorised by a commander, and allows police to stop and search with no specific grounds.
“It was a success because we didn’t have any more incidents of violence that evening, and that was the key to prevent anyone else from being hurt,” said Det Insp Ridley.
“We were able to stop and search several people, and one of them had loads of drugs.
“You can’t stand back and let people think they can carry knives. Inaction is not an option. We have to employ every tactic we can to combat it.”
If people think they are going to be searched, does it prevent them carrying knives?
“It’s difficult to say, but we had more officers out there who were able to use the power and that may well have had an effect,” said Det Insp Ridley.
“If we use section 60 all the time the public will lose confidence, but we will implement the power if we feel there is tension and potential violence or disorder.”
He added: “We want to be able to stop people carrying knives. We don’t want to be in the situation where people have gone too far and committed the offences.”
Most of the culprits are young men under the age of 25. Det Insp Ridley can’t think of a case of a woman being prosecuted.
This week, to coincide with the national week of action against knife crime, there will be more cops on patrol, weapons sweeps of parks, estates and school grounds and officers giving presentations at youth clubs to explain the dangers and consequences to young people.
Does that make any difference to kids who are already in that mindset?
“We do our best to divert them. It’s not something we can do by ourselves: we need the buy-in from our partners, the schools and parents as well.
“If they see they’ve got a knife missing from the kitchen drawer, question their child about it. Some of those knives are distinctive and you would miss it. It’s up to the parents as well to deliver the message.”
MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott, told the Gazette she has “no objection to evidence-based stops”.
“We all want the police to be confident and successful in doing their jobs and solving crime,” said the shadow home secretary.
“It is of the utmost importance they have all the tools at their disposal to do this.
“However, we know that misuse and overuse of stop and search powers in the past has inflamed the relationship between the community and the police, which only undermines effective policing.”
Tracy Prescott, co-founder of parents’ group Enough is Enough, says she is all for stop and search – and would like to see more of it.
While she considers it might be discriminatory “at times depending on the police officer”, she would rather that than see more people killed and injured on the streets.
“In this current climate with what’s happening on the road today, sorry – stop and search,” she said.