Many senior police officials have called for more stop and search, but research shows that the tactic is largely ineffective and often used unfairly and sometimes unlawfully. Targeted use of stop and search may have a role to play in reducing knife crime and serious violence, but can only ever be a small part of the solution. StopWatch calls for alternative approaches, where police work with local communities, especially young people, to create safe and peaceful communities in ways that protect fundamental human rights and freedoms.
According to the latest police recorded crime figures for 2016/17, violent crime increased by 18% compared to the previous year. Offences involving a knife or sharp instrument increased by 20% and “possession of an article with a blade or point” rose by 23%.
The Office for National Statistics attributes much of the increase in police recorded violent crime to improvements in recording practices, but also notes that hospital admissions for assault by a sharp object increased by 13% from 2014/15 to 2015/16. Hospital admissions are one of the best indictors we have of trends in serious violence and the recent increase prompted the Office for National Statistics to conclude that there has “possibly” been a “genuine rise in knife crime in some areas such as London”. Over the longer-term, however, serious violence-related attendances at hospital emergency departments and walk-in centers have been falling.
Metropolitan Police Service Commander Cressida Dick, along with other senior police officials and politicians, have publicly called for more stop and search, suggesting that the reduction of stop and search since 2010 has contributed to an increase in knife-related crime.
On occasion, stop and search does lead to a dangerous weapon being found by an officer, but research shows that the tactic is largely ineffective and often used unfairly and sometimes unlawfully.
The Home Office evaluation of The Tackling Knives and Serious Youth Violence Action Programme, found that this initiative, which involved extensive use of stop and search, had no measurable impact on levels of knife crime. A second evaluation found there were no significant crime-reducing effects associated with the large increase in weapons searches across London during the course of the anti-knife-crime Operation BLUNT 2 in 2008. Recently, the College of Policing cautioned that extremely large increases in stop and search would, at best, deliver modest reductions in crime, but would be “likely to be unacceptable to some communities.”
Most stop-searches lead to nothing being found. The Home Office reports that the outcome of 76% of stop and searches is ‘No further action’. As a reason for a search ‘Offensive weapons’ accounts for only 9% of all searches under PACE section 1, with a resulting arrest rate of only 16%. Carrying out a large number of stop-searches for minor offences, including cannabis possession, represents a poor use of resources and weakens police legitimacy.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has shown that many stop- searches are conducted without reasonable suspicion - the legal test to ensure that the use of these powers is lawful. Such stops are potentially unlawful, breaching the right to privacy and violating the people’s sense of respect and dignity. This is particularly the case among people from black and minority ethnic communities who are disproportionally impacted.
The intelligent, targeted use of stop and search may have a role to play in reducing knife crime and serious violence, but can only ever be a small part of the solution. Spurious claims about the effectiveness of this tactic and the consequences of reductions in its use do everybody a disservice, particularly those who are most affected. Stop and search creates a double burden, criminalising already marginalised communities, while doing little – if anything – to protect them. StopWatch calls for alternative approaches, where police work with local communities, especially young people, to create safe and peaceful communities in ways that protect fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Notes to Editors:
StopWatch is a coalition of legal experts, civil society groups, academics and young people that works to reduce disproportionality and promote best practice in stop and search powers. For more information on StopWatch, please visit www.stop-watch.org.uk
For further information please contact Carson Arthur at [email protected] 020 7324 3533
 Sivarajasingam, V., Farnell, DJJ., Moore, S., Page, N., Shepherd, J.P. (2016) Violence in England and Wales in 2016: An Accident and Emergency Perspective, Cardiff: Cardiff University; https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/734904/Violence-in-England-and-Wales-in-2016.pdf
 Ward, L., Nicholas, S., and Willoughby, M. (2011) An Assessment of the Tackling Knives and Serious Youth Violence Action Programme (TKAP) – Phase II, Research Report 53, London: Home Office. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/an-assessment-of-the-tackling-knives-and-serious-youth-violence-action-programme-tkap-phase-ll
 Home Office (2016) Police powers and procedures, England and Wales, year ending 31 March 2016, London: Home Office. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/562977/police-powers-procedures-hosb1516.pdf