Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Stop and search – getting the balance right?

leave a comment »

One of the most controversial powers use by the police is the power to stop and search people. Heavy-handed use alienates those who are stopped and searched (and the wider community); failure to use these powers can lead to increases in crime.

There is no doubt that the experience of stop and search is felt most acutely amongst the black communities. There is clear evidence that young black men are disproportionately subjected to these processes. While the law and policies relating to stop and search may in theory try to strike a balance between policing needs and the rights of individuals not to be stopped as they go about their business, getting that balance right in practice remains a challenge, particularly for those police forces that use stop and search a lot. Particularly concerning are those who have been stopped and searched on numerous occasions. It is understandable that they might feel they have been treated unfairly.

In this context, a report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into the use of stop and search by the Metropolitan Police, published in October 2020, is worth noting. Having looked in detail at a sample of stop and search incidents, the IOPC concluded that the legitimacy of stop and searches was being undermined by:

  • a lack of understanding about the impact of disproportionality
  • poor communication
  • consistent use of force over seeking cooperation
  • the failure to use body-worn video from the outset of contact and
  • continuing to seek further evidence after the initial grounds for the stop and search were unfounded.

Recommendations made by the IPOC to the Met included:

  • taking steps to ensure that their officers better understand how their use of stop and search powers impacts individuals from groups that are disproportionately affected by those powers;
  • ensuring there is a structure in place so leaders and supervisors are proactively monitoring and supervising the use of stop and search powers…;
  • taking steps to ensure that assumptions, stereotypes and bias (conscious or unconscious) are not informing or affecting officer’s decision making when carrying out stop and searches, especially when using these powers on people from Black communities;
  • ensuring officers are not relying on the smell of cannabis alone when deciding to stop and search someone and use grounds based upon multiple objective factors;
  • ensuring officers carrying out stop and searches always use the principles of GOWISELY and engage in respectful, meaningful conversations with the persons being stopped;
  • ensuring stop and search training incorporates a section on de-escalation, including the roles of supervisors and colleagues in controlling the situation and providing effective challenge;
  • ensuring officers exercising stop and search powers are ending the encounters once their suspicion has been allayed, in a manner that minimises impact and dissatisfaction, unless there are further genuine and reasonable grounds for continued suspicion;
  • ensuring officers exercising stop and search powers are not using restraint/handcuffs as a matter of routine and are only using these tools when reasonable, proportionate and necessary;
  • amending stop and search records to include a question about whether any kind of force has been used;
  • ensuring officers are following policy and switching on their body-worn video camera early enough to capture the entirety of a stop and search interaction;
  • supervisors taking a proactive role in monitoring and ensuring compliance with body-worn video policy.

The challenge with all such reports is to know how they are followed through in practice. Do they lead to changes in front-line behaviour? Or are they left on a shelf, largely ignored?

A very useful review of the law and changes in policy relating to stop and search was published, in November 2020, in a House of Commons Briefing Paper, No 3878. Written by Jennifer Brown, it sets out: the law; the use of the law; the impact of the law; and a brief history of recent changes to law and practice.

Among the points made in the paper:

  1. The numbers of stops has reduced by over 50% over the past 10 years (though there has been a sharp increase recently).
  2. Black people were nine times more likely to be searched than white people.
  3. Use of stops is predominantly by 5 police forces (the Met, Merseyside, West Midlands, Essex and South Yorkshire police forces).
  4. Most searches were conducted to find drugs.
  5. Around 20% lead to either arrest or out of court disposal.
  6. It is estimated that around 8% of all arrests in 2018/19 were generated by a stop and search encounter.
  7. Stop and search hardly ever results in the prevention of a crime.

The IOPC report is at https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/news/review-identifies-eleven-opportunities-met-improve-stop-and-search

The House of Commons Briefing paper is at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/?s=stop+and+search+&library=1&year=all and follow the link.

Written by lwtmp

January 6, 2021 at 3:17 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: