1 September 2014

Briefing on Stop and Search and PCC developments - January- June 2014

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Welcome to the first edition of a new series of regular StopWatch briefings outlining some of the key developments in police use of stop and search. This briefing will also address updates in relation to the work of Police and Crime Commissioners (‘PCC’) across England and Wales. We’d welcome any feedback and comments to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

This briefing covers the following major developments between January and June 2014:

  • Home Office reform to stop and search
  • Home Secretary’s speech to the Police Federation Annual Conference
  • Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Inquiry into PCCs
  • All Party Parliamentary Group on Children initial findings on young people and the police (APPGC)
  • Greater Manchester PCC public meeting on stop and search
  • West Midlands Stop and Search Scrutiny Panels
  • Schedule 7 codes of practice


Home Office reform to stop and search

Further to a national consultation which concluded in September 2013 on the use of stop and search, the Home Secretary outlined to Parliament 13 measures which will attempt to make the use of those powers more effective, transparent and accountable to the public, whilst at the same time reducing unnecessary paperwork having to be filled out by police officers. The main changes outlined included:

  • the revision of the police code of practice to make it clearer what constitutes 'reasonable grounds for suspicion’ as a basis to search a person (not all powers require reasonable suspicion but most recorded searches are carried out under section 1 which does);
  • the Home Office commissioning the College of Policing to work with chief constables and Police and Crime Commissioners to develop training for front-line police officers, supervising officers and police leaders;
  • a recommendation that police officers undergo mandatory and regular training by the College of Policing on the use of stops and searches;
  • publishing stop and search data onto a national website;
  • stop and search to be included in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s (HMIC) annual inspection of police forces;
  • the introduction of a ‘Best Use of Stop and Search’ scheme which is voluntary and consists of a series of changes to how searches are conducted and monitored within participating forces;
  • and as a result of consultation responses including that of StopWatch, the HMIC will now also review how traffic stops and strip-searches are being used, two powers which have traditionally escaped review.

StopWatch welcomed the Home Secretary’s statement on the widespread misuse of police stop and search and the government’s recognition of the need to address ethnic bias amongst officers in the use of their powers. StopWatch remains disappointed that the package of reforms relies on voluntary cooperation; an approach that has failed in the past, from the Scarman to MacPherson report. Without proposals that have some teeth, minority communities will continue to experience policing that is neither fair nor effective.

The Home Office’s response to the consultation which outlines the 13 measures can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/stop-and-search


Home Secretary’s speech to the Police Federation Annual Conference

In her annual speech to the Police Federation, Theresa May delivered what many commentators have regarded as the most extraordinary speech delivered by any Home Secretary to Federation members. The Home Secretary announced significant reforms she intended to impose upon the organisation including cutting central government funds to the Federation, changing the law so that members must opt-in to join the Federation rather than the current system where officers become automatic members, calling in the organisation’s accounts, and bringing forward legislation to cover both the national federation and local branches under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. She also warned of further changes to be imposed if she felt that the Federation were failing to reform themselves sufficiently.

Theresa May raised the issue of stop and search four times in her speech as examples of bad police practice, highlighted its disproportionate use against people from black backgrounds and reiterated how “determined” she was to ensure that “the use of stop and search must come down, become more targeted and lead to more arrests”.

Her full speech can be read at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/home-secretarys-police-federation-2014-speech


Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Inquiry into PCCs

HASC published their inquiry into PCCs (currently awaiting a response from the government) and whilst it felt that it was too early to make a judgement as to whether PCCs have been a success or not, it did make a series of recommendations such as: giving police and crime panels a greater role in scrutinising PCCs; PCCs should name their proposed deputy during the election; and their powers to dismiss chief constables should be tightened. The committee repeated its call for a public register of disclosable interests to ensure greater transparency to the public.

The full report can be read at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmhaff/757/757.pdf


All Party Parliamentary Group on Children (APPGC) initial findings on young people and the police

The APPG on Children recently published an initial analysis of the data on stops and searches of children as part of a much wider study into the experiences of policing by children and young people. The data in the report was patchy because not all police forces disclosed information that the APPGC requested and StopWatch was amongst the special witnesses who provided evidence to the inquiry.

From the 26 police forces that did provide data out of a total of 44 surveyed across England and Wales (including the British Transport Police), the report revealed that these were responsible for carrying out over a million searches of people under the age of 18 between 2009-2013 which equated to around 20-25% of the total searches within those forces. Of the 26 police forces, 22 searched a combined total of 1,136 children under the age of 10 which is the below the age of criminal responsibility. This led the APPGC to call for statutory guidance to be developed to deal specifically with searches of young people and that the HMIC focus on this as part of their annual review of stops and searches. In response, the HMIC indicated that it would be looking at the issue of stop and searches of under 18’s during its annual inspections of police forces.

The APPGC also focussed on the lack of dedicated facilities for young people detained in police custody which meant that they were at risk of being exposed to potentially very violent criminals. They called for each police force to establish dedicated and separate areas for young people in custody suites across every police station in the country.

The final report will be published this autumn and the report of the initial analysis report can be read at: http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/1150494/appgc_police_data_report_july_2014_final.pdf


Greater Manchester PCC public meeting on Stop and Search

Greater Manchester PCC, Tony Lloyd, held an open meeting on stop and search in June, one of a series of themed ‘Parliamentary style’ hearings. From the material published ahead of the session, it seems that discussion points revolved around figures on stop and search, outcomes and disproportionality; communities’ experiences; and a review of the airwave radio technology used to record encounters and feedback from communities.

Greater Manchester police have replaced the old system of hand-written records with airwave radio technology. Officers use specially adapted handsets to record information on the power used, the object and outcome of the search and the person’s self-defined ethnicity. It automatically records the date, time and the location of the encounter but the grounds for the search is recorded over the radio to an operator and it is the force’s policy to not record the name and address of those searched. Periodically, the PCC dip samples a selection of records to inspect them as a form of accountability and quality control.

According to the data published, between April 2013 and March 2014, 27,691 people were searched under section 1 of PACE and related legislation; 96 people were searched under section 60; and an additional 130 searches were conducted within that period but the legislation used was unknown at the time of publication. This represents a 22% increase in section 1 and a 3% increase in section 60 searches compared to the previous year. The majority of searches, 13,394 (47.8%), were for drugs which is a much lower category of crime compared to firearms, carrying other offensive weapons, criminal damage or burglary. Only 6.3% of all searches resulted in an arrest which is below the 10% national average arrest rate and 57% of searches resulted in no further action taken. The remaining 36% resulted in some other outcome like a warning, summons or giving ‘advice’ to individuals searched although it is not clear what this last category refers to. Of the 28,037 total number of searches, 75.8% were of whites, 10.9% were Asian, 5.4% were black and 3.7% were mixed. Since the publication did not provide data on the ethnic composition of the population residing in GMP, any ethnic disproportionality in the use of section 1 or section 60 could not be calculated although data from the Ministry of Justice showed that in the previous year (April 2011 to March 2012), people from black and mixed backgrounds were stopped at a rate of twice that of whites and Asians were searched almost on par with the white population[1].

Finally, only 6 complaints were made to GMP about the use of stop and search but this is not surprising in light of the difficulties people have trying to understand the complaints system as well as the low levels of faith in the complaints system amongst people who are regularly stopped and searched.

More information can be found at: https://meetings.gmpcc.org.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=241&MId=1500&Ver=4


West Midlands Stop and Search Scrutiny Panels

As part of a new oversight arrangement into stop and search, the late West Midlands PCC, Bob Jones, established ten scrutiny panels in the police force, one for each local policing unit. A one day conference took place on Monday 7th July bringing together members of the ten panels, the PCC’s office and police officers.

The role of each panel is to oversee and scrutinise West Midland’s Police's use of stop and search which includes examining individual, anonymised search records.

More information about these panels can be found at: http://www.westmidlands-pcc.gov.uk/key-issues/stop-search/stop-and-search-scrutiny-panels/


Schedule 7 Codes of Practice


Further to legislative changes to Schedule 7 by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Police and Crime Act 2014, the Home Office published draft codes of practice to officers using the power at ports after holding a public consultation on a revised copy of the codes. Schedule 7 contains the widest-ranging powers to search in the UK and allows officers at ports to question, search and detain people for up to 6 hours without requiring suspicion to believe that they are involved in terrorism. Under this power, people can face intensive questioning over their travel plans; and personal, political and social views; and the police can search their luggage and any associated vehicles; and scan and download data from their mobile phones, laptops, tablet computers or any other electrical item. StopWatch has created a detailed briefing on this power which can be viewed here.

The codes now reflect the fact that people are entitled to consult (in private) with a legal representative; examinations cannot exceed the first hour mark whereas before there was no upper time limit as long as it was under the previous maximum detention time of 9 hours (now reduced to 6 hours) and the codes outline the role of the ‘review officer’ introduced by legislation. Review officers are responsible for periodically regularly reviewing the detention of people held under schedule 7 beyond the first hour and must judge whether their continued detention (for up to 6 hours) is justified or not. Also, an additional and significant change was made in the revised codes which was not covered by the legislation: the Home Office no longer classifies ‘initial screening questions’ as a schedule 7 encounter. Initial screening questions are usually very brief encounters where people are asked to produce their passport and are questioned about their travel. There was never a statutory requirement to record these briefing encounters in the past and they could be seen as the port equivalent of stop and accounts. They remain an essential part of the ports officers’ decision-making process as to whether a person should be examined or detained and it is estimated that most schedule 7 encounters take less than 15 minutes and do not exceed the initial screening stage[2]. This lack of recording means that the true extend of the use of schedule 7 will remain known. However, after feedback from consultees such as StopWatch, the revised code does make it clearer to officers that screening questions are voluntary but it is still unlikely that many passengers subjected to these encounters would be aware of this.

StopWatch’s response to the consultation can be read at: http://www.stop-watch.org/news-comment/story/stopwatchs-submission-to-the-home-office-consultation-on-schedule-7-code-of


[1] Ministry of Justice (2013) Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2012.

[2] David Anderson QC (2013) The Terrorism Acts in 2012: Report of the Independent Reviewer on the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 and of part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006. See pages 96-97.