Why we are opposed to ‘Section 60’ pilots

‘Section 60’ refers to Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A Section 60 order is applied to a specific geographical area, and is authorised by a police officer (of or above the rank of Inspector). The order essentially allows police officers to stop and search people without ‘reasonable suspicion’. Since 2019, the government has been piloting changes that make it easier for the police to obtain authorisation for Section 60 orders. After initially being piloted in seven locations, the pilot has now been extended to cover all 43 police forces in England and Wales. This article highlights five key reasons why we, at the Northern Police Monitoring Project, are concerned about the piloted changes, and opposed to section 60 more broadly. 

  1. The police force is institutionally racist. All of the evidence on policing points to racist disproportionalities that impact most harshly on ethnic minority communities. This is evident in stop and search, taser use, so-called ‘gangs’ databases, and police use of force. These indicators suggest that the police force remains institutionally racist. It is therefore difficult to imagine that police applications of Section 60 will not discriminate against ethnic minority communities.
  2. Existing evidence on Section 60 highlights racism. Whilst disproportionality in stop and search rates is already stark, the disparity under section 60 is even more worrying. According to the Home Office’s own data, in comparison to white people, Black people are 40 times more likely to be stopped under the order. 
  3. The requirement of ‘reasonable suspicion’ should be protected. Under the PACE laws that generally govern stop and search, the police are required to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ before stopping somebody. This requirement came after decades of Anti-Racist campaigning against ‘sus’ laws, which – under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 – allowed the police to stop people without establishing reasonable suspicion. Unsurprisingly, ‘sus’ laws were incredibly racist in their application. Section 60 allows the police to bypass Anti-Racist gains, and to return to stopping people based on racial profiling and other subjective criteria . Whilst ‘reasonable suspicion’ clearly does not prevent racial discrimination, it does at least place an onus on officers to justify their actions. It should therefore be protected. 
  4. Black communities are already less able to trust the police. Due to the institutional racism that underpins the police force, Black communities are less likely to view the police as a legitimate institution. Creating the impression that the police are unaccountable, the use of Section 60  only deepens this mistrust. Given that ethnic minority communities are more likely to be victims of crime, it is significant that their faith and trust in the police is significantly lower than that of their white counterparts. Whilst we ultimately hope to see the abolition of the police, given its centrality to our current societal structure, it is unjust that Black and Brown communities cannot afford to trust the police.  
  5. Stop and Search is highly ineffective in preventing violent crime. As well as the vast array of negative outcomes of stop and search, and specifically of section 60, it is also important to note that – as a significant body of research has shown – stop and search is highly ineffective in reducing  levels of violent crime. The government’s own data shows that whilst stop and search generally is ineffective, stops under section 60 are even more ineffective. Unless, of course, the aim is actually to create an intimidating environment for particular communities. In response to violent crime, we would advocate for public health approaches that prioritise investment in community centres, schools, and youth work. This approach will be far more effective than punitive policing.