BRITAIN’S new Home Secretary Priti Patel has revealed plans to expand the Government’s controversial stop and search initiative, just days after promising 20,000 new police officers for UK streets.

But an investigation by this paper can today reveal that stop and search has already sky-rocketed in Essex this year and that black residents are almost six times as likely to be targeted for checks than their white neighbours.

VIDEO: See our full interview with Priti Patel by clicking here 

Ms Patel, who is also the Conservative MP for Witham, pledged that officers across England and Wales will have greater freedom to use section 60 powers, allowing them to check people for items such as drugs and weapons without senior authorisation, on the premise that violence ‘may’ occur.

Official data suggests that the expansion of stop and search may hasten an already striking trend.

In the whole of 2018, community policing teams conducted 222 stop and search checks in the Braintree district.

But within the first six months of 2019, that number had already been exceeded, with more than 330 checks being carried out by July.

Braintree and Witham Times:

Meanwhile, county-wide, there were roughly 7,500 stop and search checks in the first half of this year, compared with only about 5,750 in the whole of 2018.

Essex Police announced this week that Operation Sceptre, which was launched in April to fight knife crime, has conducted 80 operations since June, including 691 stop and search checks.

Accompanying the rise of these controversial measures, police data also reveals that non-white residents are far more likely to be targeted than the county’s white inhabitants.

For every 1,000 white people living in Essex, only 3.46 were subject to a stop and search check in the first half of 2019.

But in the same period, that number was 19.26 for black residents – almost six times higher.

Braintree and Witham Times:

It means that nearly 2 per cent of Essex’s black residents, or about one in 50, experienced a stop and search check in the first six months of this year alone.

Iman Mortagy, of Refugee Action Colchester, said at least two of their clients had been stopped and searched by police during the period in question.

She said: “It makes sense because the black minority are underprivileged compared to the white majority, so there are reasons why the black community would be more likely to be stopped and searched.

“There is a lot of underlying poverty for example, that means those populations are more disadvantaged.”

However, she added: “I wouldn’t be able to comment on whether Essex Police are institutionally biased or not.”

In an exclusive interview with the Braintree and Witham Times, Ms Patel defended the practice and rejected the idea that black people would feel victimised by its expansion.

WALKABOUT: See our full report on Ms Patel's visit

“I just think that’s a very, very poor generalisation around stop and search,” she said.

“In London alone, the use of stop and search has led to a 15 per cent reduction in under-25s basically being harmed by taking weaponry off people and I think that is so important.

“I’ve actually been out on police patrols in the summer last year and earlier on this year where I’ve gone to places like Braintree and I’ve been with the police where they have stopped people and searched them and found them carrying things that they should not have been carrying.

“So I think it is a very, very significant move to protect our people, to protect our communities, our villages, our towns, and by doing that it’s important that we empower our police to make sure that they can get on and take those harms and people who want to do harm off our streets.”

Official stats reveal that 70 per cent of stop and search checks in Essex from January to June saw no further police action, while only about 12 per cent resulted in an arrest.

Around one in ten led to a cannabis or khat warning.

Ms Patel’s announcement has fuelled speculation that Boris Johnson’s new Government is drumming up support ahead of an early general election this autumn.

On the same day, Mr Johnson also promised an extra 10,000 new prison places will be delivered, to the tune of £2.5billion.

The package of reforms drew condemnation from across the political spectrum, with Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott saying: “Even the Government’s own research demonstrates that random stop and search, in and of itself, does not bring down violent and knife crime.”