Research & policy
More in this section
StopWatch's Research and Policy Group conducts research and public events on a number of areas relating to stop and search policy and practice, with the aim of ensuring that the public debate and decision-making of policy makers is informed by an evidence-based approach.
The StopWatch Research and Policy Group is made up of academics, those most affected by the use of stop and search, their parents or guardians and members of the public. It raises awareness of a number of areas relating to stop and search, outlined below. To attend our regular public seminars or other events, please check out our events page.
Stop and Account
In March 2011, the government introduced changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) Code of Practice A, which governs the use and recording of stop and search. Police forces have been given the discretion to choose whether or not to record ‘stop and account’ and to reduce the recording of stop and search. The changes were made with little consultation despite it threatening to undermine established monitoring structures and erode mechanisms of accountably.
Read our briefing paper, which answer some of the key questions around the recording of police stops: “Carry on Recording” Why police stops should still be recorded, May 2011
Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides powers in ports and airports for ‘examining officers’to stop, question and/or detain people, if they believe that they are engaged in acts of terrorism, without the need for any reasonable suspicion. Schedule 7 is a highly intrusive stop power and operating outside of the regulatory framework that covers other (police) powers of stop and search. Individuals stopped under the power are not under arrest but may be detained for up to 6 hours wherein they may be questioned; searched (as well as their belongings and vehicles); strip-searched; have data from their electronic items including laptops, mobile phones or tablet PCs; and have samples of their DNA & fingerprints taken from them and placed on the database of convicted terrorists regardless of the outcome of the encounter.
Data from the 2011 British Crime Survey has estimated that 10% of adults in England and Wales are subject to a traffic stop every year. Of those stopped, a disproportionate number are of non-white ethnicities. In the years 2008-2011, 11% of white people reported being stopped while in a vehicle, compared with 33% of those from mixed black and white ethnicities and 18% black Caribbean and Asian Muslim.
The British Crime Survey is one of few sources of information on the use of section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Under the power, police officers are not required to record stops that do not lead to a search. This has lead to a significant information gap how the power is being used, and to what extent. StopWatch is continuing concrete research in the area. More information on the methodology of our research with the British Crime Survey’s statistics is available here, and media coverage here.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the national body responsible for inspecting whether police forces are operating efficiently and effectively, recently highlighted the lack of recording and expressed concerns that people from minority ethnic backgrounds were being disproportionately targeted under traffic stops, less likely to be given an explanation as to why they were being stopped and having their vehicle searched and that they were also less likely to be stopped for a valid reason. The HMIC recommended that the Home Office introduce a statutory duty upon all police forces requiring that these encounters be recorded, that data recorded should be made public and that guidance should be developed for officers using those powers.
Recent data has revealed that people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds account for more than half of those strip searched after arrest by the London Metropolitan police in the past 3 years. Current regulations do not require the recording of strip searches before arrest, raising concern for the effective monitoring of police practice in this area.
Recent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 43 police forces yielded 5 responses or partial responses. There is currently no centralized collection of records of strip search practices and the majority of forces refused to provide information on grounds of cost, while a significant number of forces didn't record data. Of those that responded, it was revealed that between 2010 and 2013, 54 17-year-olds, 52 16-year-olds, 37 15-year-olds, 18 14-year-olds, eight 13-year-olds and two 12-year-olds were searched with their clothing being removed. In Cambridgeshire, out of 34 of these 'intimate searches', 2 led to 'found property', and one led to arrest. There were also incidents of strip searches being carried out in 'public toilets' and a bus station ticket office.
StopWatch will be continuing research in the area. More information on the data aquired through FOI requests is available here.
The StopWatch Research and Policy Group contributes to consultations both nationally and internationally.