THE county’s police boss has backed “vital” plans to expand stop and search powers in a bid to tackle knife crime... and promised officers will not target ethnic minorities.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced plans on Sunday to make it simpler for forces across England and Wales to stop and search anyone in an area where violence is anticipated – whether or not there are reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Southend Standard:

Support - Martin Terry

Southend Standard: Roger HirstRoger Hirst

'Vital' - Roger Hirst is firmly behind the plans

She said the policy will help tackle knife crime and she is “determined to put a stop to it”.

Following the announcement, Essex’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst said: “It is great to see the extension to stop and search powers. Stop and search is a vital part of what we need to do to get violence off the streets of Essex – alongside cracking down on gang leaders and supporting young people with guidance and mentoring.”

The Labour Party and several rights groups have warned stop and search can be discriminatory but the crime commissioner’s office refuted the claims.

To ensure it is used proportionally, Mr Hirst will receive regular reports on the searches which take place including details of ethnicity.

That data will then also be examined by an independent board made up of a range of community groups who can question police use of the power.

Independent Southend councillor Martin Terry, who oversees community safety, said: “I am very supportive of this. The police have to be able to use all the powers and skills they have to detect people carrying knives and other weapons. It is a difficult area and police have to use their discretion, but they are fully trained on diversity and I am sure that Essex Police have the skills necessary to avoid discrimination and victimisation. I fully support the idea of increasing stop and search.”

He added: “If people have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to worry about”.

However, other concerns surrounding the stop and search policy include questions about whether it is effective and how it can affect community relations with the police.

Research from campaign group StopWatch in August last year identified stop and search as “the catalyst” for negative relationships with the police.

A Home Office report from 2016 also found “there was no discernible crime-reducing effects from a large surge in stop and search activity” and it was unable to conclude whether the policy leads to a reduction in crime.

Southend Labour’s Matt Dent added: “I am often sceptical of the Home Office but if they have analysed data and their conclusion is that it doesn’t make a difference then my view is that there are not enough police resources anyway, for those we do have I want to see them targeted in an evidence-driven way.”

“The Home Office’s own evidence indicates it doesn’t work.”