17 August 2019

West Midlands police commissioner: Section 60 powers unnecessary

Government accused of failing to evaluate the pilot scheme

Please read the Guardian website article 'Police force declines new powers lowering bar for stop and search' for the full story.

West Midlands police have refused to take up an offer of new powers to make it easier for officers to conduct stop and searches.

The force was included in a pilot scheme to lower the level of authorisation needed for such searches under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, but data shows officers still sought approval from assistant chief constables.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act allows officers to search anyone in a designated area without suspicion for a defined period if police anticipate serious violence. Guidance from a voluntary best practice scheme required participating forces to raise the level of authorisation needed for a section 60 from an inspector to a senior officer level, but new Home Secretary Priti Patel recently announced a nationwide extension of the pilot scheme introduced earlier this year aimed at reversing this standard.

David Jamieson, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said: 'This shows the government have not looked at one of the major pilot areas, as we didn’t reduce the approval level.

'We didn’t make the changes because we didn’t need to. We already had the necessary powers to carry out section 60 stop and searches as required. This is just another announcement aimed at getting a pre-election headline. It’s loud on rhetoric and quiet on detail.'

Katrina Ffrench, the chief executive of StopWatch, which has campaigned against exceptional stop and search powers such as section 60, welcomed the West Midlands approach.

'It’s welcoming news in terms of accountability but it also demonstrates that they are listening to the evidence on the use of Section 60 and how it should be deployed,' she said. 'Other police forces should follow suit because the arrest rate when they use section 60 is pitiful.'

According to Home Office statistics, 2% of all stop and searches carried out under section 60 between April 2017 and March 2018 led to an arrest for an offensive weapon, compared with 14% of normal stop and searches.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Decisions how best to use these powers are for chief constables and police and crime commissioners, but all forces involved in the pilot have told us that they are using some or both of the relaxed restrictions on powers.

“Police chiefs are clear that stop and search is a vital tool for tackling serious violence and keeping people safe, which is why we have given 8,000 more officers the power to authorise enhanced stop and search.

“This has been welcomed by police leaders across the country, including the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, and the deputy chief constable, Adrian Hanstock, of the National Police Chiefs Council.”