housands of knives have been taken off London’s streets in the past four years by methods including stop and search, the Met announced on Monday as a row broke out over a decision by Priti Patel to ease some curbs on the power.
The force said its Violent Crime Task Force had seized 3,148 blades since its creation in April 2018 in a series of “great successes” which have also included the seizure of 698 firearms and the recovery of just over 2,000 other offensive weapons.
It said the task force – which focuses on areas of high risk for violence using tactics including stop and search, weapons sweeps, and intelligence led raids – had also made 16,812 arrests, and seized 340 mopeds or scooters and 2,896 vehicles used by offenders.
Monday’s’s Met announcement came as Home Secretary Priti Patel came under fire for her decision to remove rules that had previously restricted the use of “Section 60” stop and searches.
These have been criticised for affecting black people disproportionately and can be carried out without suspicion in areas where police believe violence is going to occur for limited period.
This will now be extended to up to 72 hours instead of the current maximum of 54.
The test for ordering Section 60 searches in an area will also be made easier and the power’s use will no longer need to be communicated to residents in advance.
Ms Patel said she wanted to it “easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives” but was criticised by the group Stand up to Racism. It described the move as “draconian” and warned it would lead to “unnecessary conflict”.
Another monitoring group, Netpol, tweeted that it expected “an explosion” of Section 60 searches as a result of the change.
In a further sign of sensitivity over stop and search, Monday’s Met press release on the Violent Crime Task Force, issued jointly with Mayor Sadiq Khan, makes no mention of the tactic.
Instead, Detective Chief Inspector Lee Hill, who heads the task force, said only that officers would continue to use “every tactic they can to crack down on violent crime, while also working with partners to target the root causes of these devastating crimes.”
Mr Khan, who said that he was proud that City Hall had funded the successes of the task force, also avoided mention of stop and search as he welcomed the removal of “more than 3,000 knives and 2,000 other weapons from our streets”.
Twitter posts over the weekend by the Violent Crime Task Force make clear, however, that it is one of the keys to its achievements.
One carrying the hashtag #StopSearchSavesLives shows police vehicles with flashing lights outside terraced houses in Lambeth and carries the message:
“3 arrested from 3 separate stops. 2 with large Rambo Knives. 1 with 22 bags of cannabis. 3 rooms booked in custody. #StopSearchSavesLives”
Another tweet from Croydon says: “Vehicle stop on Queens Road CR0. @MPSCroydon. 3 males inside the vehicle, all searched for weapons. ALL found in possession of KNIVES tucked into their waistbands and arrested! Stop and Search saves lives!