Ministers are seeking to expand stop-and-search powers in England and Wales by allowing police to repeatedly check people previously convicted of carrying a knife without suspicion they are committing a fresh offence.
The proposals are being unveiled despite mounting evidence that stop-and-search tactics are used disproportionately against ethnic minorities, which is in part behind enflamed tensions between black communities and the police.
Proposed serious violence reduction orders (SVROs) would be applied to people previously convicted of carrying a knife or an offensive weapon, including those who have received non-custodial sentences such as community orders or suspended sentences, and would open them to further searches by police.
They would allow police to stop and search those subject to the order to check if they are unlawfully carrying a knife or offensive weapon, without the suspicion they are committing a fresh offence.
Stop-and-search powers are governed by two main pieces of legislation – section 1, which requires a reasonable grounds for suspicion, and section 60, which allows searches to be conducted without suspicion but within a specific geographical area.
The orders were first proposed by the Centre for Social Justice, a thinktank founded by the former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan-Smith, which has been given a rating of D by the thinktank transparency campaign group Who Funds You?
Official figures show people who identify as black in England and Wales are nearly 10 times more likely to be stopped than people who identify as white. However, within some police force areas, this is even higher: police in Dorset are 25 times more likely to stop black people than white people.
The proposal to expand stop-and-search powers comes after a wave of protests highlighting racial inequality, sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in the US after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists gathered outside New Scotland Yard on Saturday to denounce the “overpolicing of black communities” through tactics including stop and search and police use of stun guns.
The demonstrators called on the Metropolitan police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, to step down, arguing she had failed to acknowledge racism within the force.
The crime and policing minister, Kit Malthouse, said: “Knife crime has a devastating effect on young lives and our neighbourhoods. Our ambition is for these new powers to transform the way stop and search is used by targeting the small number of the most serious and persistent criminals.
“The law-abiding majority should not have to live in fear, which is why are taking action across all fronts to keep them safe.”
The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: “The truth is that under the Tories violent crime – and knife crime in particular – has risen right across the country, while ministers have overseen a rise in reoffending.
“That is, sadly, the inevitable consequence of deep cuts to the police and preventive services. A range of actions are needed to tackle repeat offending, with a strategy that carries the confidence of all our communities, not simply a public consultation on piecemeal measures.”
A public consultation on the use of SVROs is launching on Monday and will run for eight weeks.
The orders would be imposed by a court, which could also decide on the exact length of the order.