4 January 2016

Briefing on Stop and Search and PCC Developments: October - December 2015

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Stop and search falls by 40%; Supreme Court rules non-suspicion based searches is not discriminatory; Home Secretary criticises “false link” between knife crime and reduction in searches

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

  • Stop and search falls by 40%
  • Supreme Court rules non-suspicion based searches is not discriminatory
  • Home Secretary criticises “false link” between knife crime and reduction in searches


40% fall in recorded stop and search use

Stop and search use fell by 40% in 2014/15 compared to the previous year, according to annual figures published by the Home Office. These figures show that there were just under 540,000 recorded searches in the financial year 2014/15 compared to just under 900,000 in the previous year, a fall of approximately 3,000 searches.

Similar to previous years, the vast majority of searches were for drugs but in 2014/15 it accounted for 59% of all searches whereas it comprised 53% of searches in the previous year. The overall rate at which minorities were searched in comparison to whites increased slightly[1]. Black people were searched at 5 times the rates of whites, mixed people at twice the rate of whites and Asians at one and a half times that rate. People from Chinese or ‘other’ ethnic backgrounds were searched at the same rate as whites.

The overall reductions in search volumes continue the declining trends since 2010/11 and take place as all forces went live with the Home Secretary’s ‘Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme’ in November 2014. The scheme introduces better recording of stop and search outcomes and a greater opportunity for members of the public to scrutinise the records from these encounters. Because the scheme is voluntary and does not change the law, forces are allowed to ‘depart’ from the scheme under ‘exceptional circumstances’ and under the condition that they make the details known to the public. Greater restrictions are placed upon the use of section 60, a power which does not require reasonable suspicion for police officers to search a person for weapons in an area where serious violence is anticipated. According to the Home Office figures, section 60 use also fell by 78% from 3,960 in the financial year 2013/14 to 1,082 in 2014/15.

An analysis of what the figures show and how they compare to the previous year can be found on our dedicated blog post.

[1] Figures are based upon the 2011 census data and so are estimates.


Supreme Court rules non-suspicion based searches is not discriminatory

The Supreme Court rejected a case challenging the lawfulness of the use of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which permits police officers to stop and search people any without the need for reasonable suspicion in areas where serious violence is anticipated.

The Court argued that the powers were necessary and were subject to sufficient safeguards to protect against arbitrary use. It also agreed with the previous rulings of the High Court and the Court of Appeal rejecting the claim that the powers are discriminatory because, as the Supreme Court argued, the fact that the law and accompanying codes of practice for section 60 warn officers against using their powers in a prejudicial manner provides sufficient safeguards against discriminatory use of the power.

The challenge was brought by Ms. Roberts who was subjected to a search after a police officer suspected her of carrying a weapon. The search result in no weapon being found and the case took place against the backdrop of a decade of increased section 60 use accompanied by unprecedented racial disparities. In 2010/11, at the time that the search took place, black people were 37 times more likely to be stopped and search under this power and yet, less than 0.5% of these searches led to an arrest for weapons, the legal reason for the power.

StopWatch’s full reaction to the judgement can be found here.


Home Secretary criticises “false link” between knife crime and reduction in searches

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, criticised the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for his claims throughout 2015 that a reduction in stops and searches in the capital has led to an increase in knife crime. Speaking at a recent conference of the National Black Police Association, she delivered barely veiled criticism of the commissioner describing his arguments as a “knee-jerk reaction on the back of a false link”, arguing that “stop and search reform has worked, it must continue, and – if you look at the evidence – it shows no link whatsoever with violent crime.”

StopWatch’s own recent analysis also shows that less stop and search does not mean more knife crime.