Police say tensions are running extremely high in many London boroughs, following recent high-profile stop and search incidents.
Police officers are facing heightened hostility and anger as they carry out stop and search operations in London’s black communities.
Frontline officers have told Sky News tensions are running extremely high in many of the capital’s boroughs, following recent high-profile stop and search incidents.
Senior officers said the tactic remained a “vital component” in tackling high levels of violent crime, but admitted the public mood in some communities had become increasingly strained.
Sky News was given exclusive access to officers from the Met’s new violence suppression units, a London-wide initiative using local officers to tackle violent crime in their boroughs.
In Haringey, north London, a team of 52 local officers are attached to the Violence Suppression Unit in that area, one of the capital’s most violent boroughs.
Sky followed a team as they carried out weapons searches in a park near Turnpike Lane tube station, a known hotspot for gang activity, according to the police.
Within minutes of arriving at Ducketts Common, plain clothes officers found a knife buried in the ground and two packets of cannabis on the grass next to it.
Two minutes later, another team found a large kitchen knife hidden in a litter bin next to a child’s play area.
And just a quarter of an hour after that, officers found two cricket bats, hidden in bushes nearby.
It is not just knives that criminal gangs will use to settle disputes – bats and other objects are often used as makeshift weapons.
Although people are still regularly caught carrying knives, gangs are increasingly hiding their weapons in easy-to-access areas, like local parks and open spaces.
PC Burak Guven told us: “I don’t think criminal gangs discriminate in terms of where they want to hide their offensive weapons.
“I think the more unbelievable the location, the better it is for them because you wouldn’t think to maybe search in a children’s play area but this is just the reality for us.”
The other reality officers say they now face is growing levels of community resistance to stop and search operations.
Sky News witnessed incidents where angry crowds gathered after officers stopped black teenagers.
There were shouts of “racist police” and accusations the teenagers had only been stopped because of the colour of their skin. Police refute any such suggestion.
In one incident, officers stopped two 17-year-olds on suspicion of riding stolen hire bikes.
Although one of the teenagers stopped was white, the officers still faced claims they only target young black men.
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Much of the community anger follows the death of George Floyd, who died when a police officer knelt on his neck in the US, and the subsequent global protests by the Black Lives Matter movement.
PC Guven said it was becoming increasingly difficult to conduct stop and search operations safely, because of the heightened tensions.
“I think, given the current climate, it is very difficult to just do your job and not have a crowd form. It’s just what we’re seeing.
“Everyone has the right to ask, but when you don’t answer or because you’ve already explained yourself 15 times, you’re automatically put into the scope of maybe you’ve stopped for the wrong reason, which isn’t the case.
“You physically can’t have these exhausting conversations with 20 people all at once. It’s really tough.”
Chris Preddie grew up in north London and now helps divert young people away from violence.
Although he has some sympathy for the police, he said officers still have a way to go in connecting with residents.
He claimed: “Police don’t engage with the community, so the community only feel like they come in here when it’s an emergency – you throw around your authority, you brutalise our young people.
“You’re 80% more likely to be stopped because you’re black but we don’t count for 80% of the population, so that doesn’t make any sense.”
Scotland Yard commanders say the stop and search statistics only tell a partial story; that young black men are also five times more likely to be victims of homicide.
They claim much of the anger over the use of stop and search is being fuelled by short videos taken on mobile phones and posted on social media, which do not accurately reflect the incident.
The issue of how best to tackle a crime epidemic which disproportionately affects members of the black community, while not alienating people from that same community, is highly complex.
Senior officers admit there is more that still needs to be done to help build trust.
But for now, they have real concerns that the heightened community tensions could spark serious disorder in the weeks ahead.