Police insist they “won’t hesitate” to repeat the use of special powers introduced for 48 hours in Sheffield in response to the stabbing deaths of two teenagers which left communities rocked.
Ryan Jowle, 19 and Samuel Baker, 15, were killed within the space of days in incidents at Woodhouse and Lowedges, putting them among five people murdered in South Yorkshire within two weeks.
South Yorkshire Police responded to the two teenagers’ deaths by invoking powers called ‘section 60’, which allows them to carry out stop-and-search checks on people without having to justify their actions in the normal way.
The powers are so wide-ranging they are imposed for 24 hours only and the first period was extended to a further 24 hours before policing practices returned to normal, by which time one man had been arrested, allegedly in position of a friction lock knife and he is now facing prosecution.
The section 60 arrangement was in place from Friday evening last week and the arrest happened on Saturday morning. Areas police focused attention on for searches included Lowedges, Batemoor and Jordanthorpe to the south of the city, as well as Deep Pit and Manor Park.
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber said: “It is not something we use lightly, it is a wide-ranging power. It allows us to stop and search with reasonable grounds in PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act).
“We felt what had happened in the previous week, the concerns of the public, made it appropriate. We will continue to review that and won’t hesitate to repeat it.”
Police have been working over an extended period to try to divert young people from the menace of knives and since September last year 30,000 secondary school pupils have been involved in a programme of anti-knife work.
The force is now evaluating the success of that work and may adopt similar tactics for primary schools in the future.
Work is also under way which could result in a ‘mentoring’ system being introduced for those being seen as vulnerable to being sucked into the culture where carrying knives is acceptable.
That would target those at an early age, to try to divert them before problems arose.
“We are also doing work to identify and prioritise habitual knife carriers,” ACC Forber told South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, at a public accountability board meeting.
That would target individuals “involved in street gangs and on the fringes”, he said.
Police are also encouraged to make more frequent use of conventional stop-and-search tactics, with ACC Forber acknowledging the force carried out less now than it had five years ago.
The practice has, historically, been dogged by controversy because figures have shown minority communities have been more likely to be subjected to searches.
ACC Forber said: “We are doing an awful lot less than five ago”, though a new operation was using intelligence information to target individuals for stop and search checks, as well as ensuring officers made use of that power.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “We have said before at these meetings that every indication I get from the public is that they are fully behind it so long as it is proportionate and fair.
“Police don’t need to have any fear of public reaction.”