Mapped: Were “racist” stop-and-search tactics a factor behind the riots?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Markers show riot incidents. The shaded areas show how much more statistically likely it is for a black person to get stopped and searched by police. Darker shades = more disproportionate. (Data: Guardian, Metropolitan Police).

Racist stop-and-search tactics by the police are widely recognised as a key factor behind the Brixton Riots, and the same has been suggested of the recent rioting in London. But is it true?

The FT recently reported that “young men from the area told the FT that if any single motivation to riot could be isolated, it was existing methods of police control – particularly the practice of stop-and-search, in which officers search people regardless of whether or not they have grounds for suspicion.” Local London papers also reported on the potential link – The Tottenham Journal wrote: “Community leaders and young people spoke of disproportionate use of stop and search powers on young black men as a cause of resentment.”

As chance would have it, at the end of August the Metropolitan Police published detailed data on stop-and-searches undertaken (available here under “Week ending 28th August”). Using data from July, it is possible to work out how racially disproportionate police stop-and-searches were just weeks before the riots started – in other words, how much more likely it is for a black person to be stopped than a white person. This has been worked out with the Met figures showing the total number of S&Ss per 1,000 white population and per 1,000 black population (the Met use 2001 Census data for this).

This data has been mapped and then merged with data from The Guardian showing the locations of the riots.

The result: (1) There doesn’t appear to be any significant correlation. It seems stop-and-search tactics may not have been such a major factor behind the riots after all. (2) The level of disproportional stop-and-search is shocking. This data on its own is not sufficient to dub the use of stop-and-search as ‘institutionally racist’, but it certainly isn’t looking too good. Whether or not it is linked to the riots, it is a serious issue and should be looked at more closely.

***The map was created exclusively for accessdocs.wordpress.com by Martin Williams with a great deal of help and data analysis from John Burn-Murdoch. Thanks also to Matt Stiles.***  

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2 Responses to Mapped: Were “racist” stop-and-search tactics a factor behind the riots?

  1. Richard says:

    Do the different colours mean anything on the map? E.g. Hackney is green while West London is red. I understand that darker areas mean more disproportionate stop and search but wasn’t sure about the colour coding.

    • AccessDocs says:

      The different colours are used just to avoid having loads of shades of the same colour. So, in order of most to least disproportional…: black, dark red, red, dark yellow, mid-yellow, light yellow, light green, blue.

      Sorry it is a little confusing. If you click on the shaded area it gives the the stat on how much more likely a black person is to be stopped and searched than a white person. E.g. Enfield “B/W S&S chance: 5.1”.

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