The SUS laws were a Victorian piece of legislation allowing the police to pick up a suspected person ‘loitering with intent’. Throughout the 1970s, there were growing concerns at the high percentage of black youth being stopped and searched under this law.
The Institute of Race Relations submitted evidence to the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure in 1979 and it painted a pretty unhappy picture. The police were accused of “overmanning” black events; raiding black clubs and meeting places and what was taken to be punitive or revenge action against black communities.
A police tactic called “fire brigade policing” – where most police officers patrolled in cars directed from a central mobile reserve – was believed to be resulting in overreactions to minor events in black areas. Has to be said this way of policing is now commonplace and long ago replaced the trusted face of the bobby on the beat.
The West Indian/African Association in Deptford was one of many organisations that campaigned to scrap SUS. There were meetings between the black community and police liaison officers but nothing ever seemed to be resolved. Things weren’t improved by the fact that black police numbers were so low. Recruitment campaigns intended to redress this didn’t seem to have the desired result for whatever reason.