29 June 2015

Briefing on Stop and Search and PCC developments: April to June 2015

StopWatch's avatar

Stop and search falls to below one million for the first time since 2005/06; London rise in searches expected; London rise in terrorism searches; Definition of a 'fair and effective' stop and search encounter; New Book on 'Stop and Search: The Anatomy of a Police Power'; Changes to the police disciplinary system

< previous briefing (January to March 2015)


Essential reading covering the following key developments on stop and search and related matters regarding Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) between April to June 2015:

  1.     Stop and search falls to below one million for the first time since 2005/06
  2.     London rise in searches expected
  3.     London rise in terrorism searches
  4.     Definition of a 'fair and effective' stop and search encounter
  5.     New Book on 'Stop and Search: The Anatomy of a Police Power'
  6.     Changes to the police disciplinary system


1.    Stop and search falls to below one million for the first time since 2005/06

In 2013/14, 895,975 stops and searches were carried out which represents a 12% reduction in total recorded searches when compared to the previous financial year 2012/13. This is the first time in almost a decade that the combined use of these powers was less than one million and these figures are based upon annual data published by the Home Office.

As in previous years, however, most searches were for drugs rather than finding items relating violent or serious crime. In 2013/13, 52% of all searches were for drugs but there was huge variance between forces in the proportion of drugs searches. These were particularly high within forces located in the South East, South West and West Midlands regions.

More information on what else these figures show can be found on our dedicated blog post.


2.    London rise in searches expected

Stops and searches in London is expected to rise in response to reports of an increase in knife crime in the capital. According to media reports, based an article in the Times Newspaper, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, stated that the recent reductions in searches has led to an increase in knife crime although Home Secretary reasserted her warning that "If the stop and searches do not continue to fall, if the use of these powers does not become more targeted, and stop-to-arrests ratios do not improve, then I will not hesitate to bring in primary legislation to make it happen."

Recent years has seen a fall in the number of stops and searches carried out due to increased scrutiny over their use and after a number of studies have shown that a less and more targeted use does not increase crime,[1] searches are often not based upon an intelligence-led approach,[2] nor do they have any significant long term impact upon reducing crime.[3] The Metropolitan Police publishes monthly data on their use of stop and search and so data to be released over the next few months will show whether there is an increase in recorded searches and whether this activity is targeted towards knife crime or other issues.

One article covering this story can be read here.


3.    London rise in terrorism searches

Searches in the capital under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 have rose in the last two financial quarters of 2014 according to Metropolitan Police figures published by the Home Office. Section 43 is power which requires reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is involved in terrorism in order to then search them for any item which may confirm that initial suspicion or not.

Although recorded searches fell from 101 between January-March 2015 to 55 in April-June, they rose to 82 in July-September and then again to 156 in October-December. The largest rise was seen in searches of Asians and those recorded as 'not stated' whereas slight increases were seen in other ethnic groups searched. Only 25 of the total 394 searches that took place in 2014 (i.e. 6%) resulted in an arrest which is 9 fewer than the previous year.

However, there has been a 20% overall reduction in the use of this power in London in 2014 when compared to 2013 and this reflects a wider general decline in the use of all powers to stop and search under various legislation in the last couple of years. Most people searched in 2014 self-defined as white (160), and Asians made the second largest category (88) followed by blacks (47), Chinese or other (36) and then people from mixed backgrounds (10).

Unfortunately, other police forces do not publish their data on section 43 which means that it is impossible to know whether this is a trend in other areas across England and Wales or unique to the capital. Figures to be published this Autumn will reveal whether these recent increases in terrorism searches is part of a reverse to the overall pattern of declined use or if this increase was only temporary.

4.    Definition of a 'fair and effective' stop and search encounter

People stopped and searched must be treated with respect, understand why they are being searched and police officers must find the object that they are looking for 'more often than not': this is what constitutes as a fair and effective use of stop and search according to the College of Policing (COP), the body responsible for standards in policing. The search must also be lawful, the least intrusive way of ascertaining whether the person is carrying the item that officers are searching for and be based upon a 'genuine belief' that the person is in fact carrying that item in the first place.

An earlier national inspection of how police forces in were using stop and search found that they were not using those powers in an effective way and people searched were not being treated fairly. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which carried out the inspection in 2013, recommended that the College of Policing establish this definition as a way of promoting standards in policing. In a recent follow-up inspection, the HMIC criticised the COP for not having fulfilled this recommendation eighteen months after it was first made.

For more information can be found on the College of Policing's website.


5.    New Book on 'Stop and Search: The Anatomy of a Police Power'

This is a new, edited collection providing the first detailed assessment of stop and search by leading experts in the field, including from members of StopWatch. It considers the legal basis of stop and search, the purpose and function of these powers, their effectiveness in tackling crime and their impact on trust and confidence in the police. It also directly addresses some of the most controversial aspects of stop and search, including its disproportionate use on people from black and minority ethnic groups, its role in counter-terrorism policing and ongoing attempts at regulation and reform.

More information can be found on the publisher's website.


6.    Changes to the police disciplinary system

Police disciplinary and appeal hearings will be held in public according to proposals by the government. This is part of an attempt to increase transparency in the disciplinary system and independence by also introducing legally qualified chairs to run disciplinary hearing panels and strengthen protections for police whistle-blowers by preventing them from being subject to disciplinary hearings as a reprisal for whistle-blowing. If the proposals go ahead, disciplinary panels will also have the power to remove or change the amount of compensation payments given to chief officers if they are dismissed due to disciplinary action.

More information can be found on the Home Office website.

[1]     The Equality and Human Rights Commission, Stop and Think. 2010
[2]     Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, Stop and Search Powers: Are the police using them effectively and fairly? 2013.
[3]     Joel Miller, Nick Bland and Paul Quinton, The Impact of Stops and Searches on Crime and the Community. The Home Office. 2000