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Proposed police power could prevent rehabilitation and hamper efforts to tackle violent crime

Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVROs) are a new power proposed by the Home Office which will allow police to stop and search someone who has previously been convicted of carrying a knife, for the period the order is in place.

In a response to the Home Office’s consultation on the new power, the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) has argued that SVROs should not be introduced as they will not address the underlying reasons for reoffending and knife carrying. Instead, they will disrupt a person’s rehabilitative journey by encouraging officers to continuously stop and search them, even after they have made a commitment to change their lives. This labelling and stigmatisation could reinforce negative stereotypes and cause harm and trauma, potentially drawing them back into a life of crime rather than away from it.

The CJA consulted with its Stop and Search Expert Group and a focus group of young people from Voyage to draft the response. They raised concerns that SVROs will further exacerbate the disproportionate use of stop and search on black and minority ethnic people. Even the Home Office consultation document noted: ‘This may mean that people from an ethnic minority who are subject to an SVRO are more likely to be searched in practice.’ The CJA argues that this does not show due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and could further damage trust and confidence in policing. Rather than tackling violent crime, it could discourage victims or witnesses of violent crime from coming forward to get help from the police or health service, reinforcing the wall of silence.

SVROs could also lead to younger children and girls being groomed and criminally exploited by people on SVROs to carry knives on their behalf, to evade detection from police. Also, if stops and searches are not conducted sensitively or individuals are frustrated at being stopped and searched on a regular basis, we are concerned that there might be an increase in arrests for public order offences, obstruction or assault. This could lead to criminalisation of individuals under an SVRO and those mistakenly stopped under this power.

The CJA is also concerned about the potential for SVRO searches to be conducted by the Territorial Support Group (TSG), who are not local neighbourhood police officers and therefore can lack local knowledge and cultural awareness, which can increase tensions.

We strongly oppose the implementation of SVROs, as we feel there is inadequate evidence of effectiveness. We would rather see funding and resources focused on increasing trauma-informed support services for people who have carried knives, rather than increased surveillance.

If SVROs are to be introduced, we strongly urge the government to implement this as a pilot for adults only, with the option for the order to be reviewed regularly and for it to be removed early if, for example, the individual is engaging positively with support services.

We would also want to see local and national scrutiny of this power and other stop and search powers. Community scrutiny panels should be mandated in every police force and supported to effectively scrutinise SVROs, as well as stops and searches under other powers. For this to be effective, panels need to follow the new College of Policing guidance on effective scrutiny and community engagement, influenced by the CJA’s Stop and Scrutinise report.  We believe that for this to be fully embedded in practice, the Home Office must establish a national body for community stop and search scrutiny panels, similar to the Independent Custody Visitors Association, which could provide training, establish scrutiny frameworks and monitor national stop and search data.