24 March 2015

NGOs call on Home Office to push through reforms on strip search and police traffic stops

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Release and StopWatch welcome police watchdog’s recommendations on stop and search but more needs to be done

The HMIC’s review into the use of stop and search was launched today. Both StopWatch and Release, who were part of the external reference group, welcome the recommendations of the review, especially in relation to traffic stops and strip searches - two areas of policing which have been woefully under scrutinised until now.

However, both organisations note the pressing need for the Home Office to use these recommendations as a stepping stone to substantive policy change, particularly concerning strip search powers.

“The use of strip search as part of a stop and search is an extremely intrusive power, often linked to the search for simple possession of drugs. The HMIC’s findings indicate some officers have been using this power unlawfully, carrying out searches at unpermitted locations and in the presence of officers of the opposite sex,” states Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release.

She added: “To ensure this invasive practice is not used widely and unjustifiably, we call on the Home Secretary to build on the HMIC’s recommendations and reform the law in this area to only allow the use of strip search when the threshold of arrest has been met”.

StopWatch member Rebekah Delsol said: “Stopwatch has long been concerned about the use of traffic stops. Section 163 Road Traffic Act stops are the most used and least regulated form of stop and search. The law is exceptionally broad, giving the police exceedingly wide latitude to stop any vehicle on the road without the need for suspicion.”

“The HMIC investigation shows that traffic stops have been used disproportionately against black and minority ethnic communities and that there has been no attempt by police forces to determine the fairness of the application of these stop powers, despite the scale of the problem.”

“For too long there has been inertia on this issue, with HMIC themselves noting the lack of progress made by forces since their 2013 report. The government must heed HMIC’s recommendations and enact substantive change on stop and search. If it doesn’t, these systemic problems will remain for years to come.”

Release and StopWatch both underscore the need for reform to be at the centre of this area of policing, noting the damage misuse of stop and search can inflict on communities and their relationship with police forces whose trust and legitimacy are brought into question through abuse of power.

 

Contact:

Niamh Eastwood, Release niamh@release.org.uk, 07900 002632

Edward Fox, Release edwardfox@release.org.uk, 020 7324 2980

 

Notes to Editors

Release is the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, providing expert advice to the public and policy makers.

StopWatch is a coalition that promotes effective, accountable and fair policing. It campaigns against the disproportionate use of stop and search, the use of exceptional stop and search powers and the weakening of accountability mechanisms.