Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘stop and search

Stop and search – getting the balance right?

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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

Use of stop and search powers by the police: recent developments

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On 10 October 2014 I wrote about the new Code of Guidance, prepared by the College of Policing on the use of stop and search powers.

The use of the new Code, called Best Use of Stop and Search, went live on 1 December 2014. It is a voluntary  scheme, but one to which all police forces in England and Wales have signed up. It is designed to ensure the police take a more intelligence-led approach to using these powers, and that they are only used when necessary. Adoption of the code is seen as part of a range of measures designed to contribute to a reduction in the overall use of stop and search, lead to better and more intelligence-led stop and searches and more effective outcomes.

Initially only thirty-five forces were fully implementing the Scheme, City of London, Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester Police, Lincolnshire, South Wales and Dorset police came full on board in April 2015. Key elements of the scheme are that

  • Forces will publish their stop and search outcomes on http://data.police.uk/data/stop-and-search/, This allows members of the public to see how their force is using these powers
  • Forces can now arrange for members of the public to accompany officers on patrol, so they can see how the police use stop and search
  • Where a force receives a large volume of complaints on the use of stop and search, that force will explain to their local community scrutiny group how it is using the powers
  • Forces should reduce the number of stop and searches where there are no reasonable grounds for suspicion.

See https://www.police.uk/news/best-use-stop-and-search/

In August 2015, it was announced that policed forces would be publishing further data on how they use these powers.This means that members of the public can see the number of stop and searches, the outcomes and the proportion of these outcomes that were linked to the purpose of the search in any given police area. The data also provide a breakdown of the ethnicity and age of people stopped and searched and the time of day stops are carried out on a monthly basis.

Currently 25 forces also publish their stop and search data on the crime maps on this site. This allows residents in these areas to see where stop and searches take place, and view details about the stop and search including the reason and outcome.

See https://www.police.uk/news/stop-and-search-data-published-policeuk/

The data are available at http://data.police.uk/data/stop-and-search/

At present the data is presented in a rather raw spreadsheet format. A more narrative account would make for easier reading of the data.

Written by lwtmp

August 8, 2015 at 11:44 am

Stop and search – code of guidance

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In August 2013, I wrote about the very critical report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary on the use of Stop and Search power by the police, and the annoucement by the Home Secretary of a consultation on the use of these powers.

In April 2014, the Home Secretary announced that there would be a new ‘Best use of stop and search scheme’ which had been drawn up by the Home Office and the College of Policing. In August 2014, it was announced that all 43 police forces had agreed to abide by the scheme and the scheme was published.

The headline features of the new scheme are:

• Data Recording – forces will record the broader range of stop and search outcomes e.g. arrests, cautions, penalty notices for disorder and all other disposal types. Forces will also show the link, or lack of one, between the object of the search and its outcome.
• Lay observation policies – providing the opportunity for members of the local community to accompany police officers on patrol using stop and search.
• Stop and search complaints ‘community trigger’ – a local complaint policy requiring the police to explain to local community scrutiny groups how the powers are being used where there is a large volume of complaints.
• Reducing section 60 ‘no-suspicion’ stop and searches by: raising the level of authorisation to senior officer (above the rank of chief superintendent);  ensuring that section 60 stop and search is only used where it is deemed necessary; and
and making this clear to the public;
• in anticipation of serious violence, the authorising officer must reasonably believe that an incident involving serious violence will take place rather than may;
• limiting the duration of initial authorizations to no more than 15 hours (down from 24); and
• communicating to local communities when there is a section 60 authorisation in advance (where practicable) and afterwards, so that the public is kept informed of the purpose and success of the operation.

It is obviously hoped that greater transparency in the use of these controversial powers will make their use more acceptable in the communities particularly affected by their use. Given the past history, there must be some doubt as to the potential effectiveness of the new scheme. But it does represent an attempt to prevent the use of stop and search powers having the deleterious impact on individuals and communities that it has had in the past.

The scheme is accessible at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/best-use-of-stop-and-search-scheme

Written by lwtmp

October 10, 2014 at 11:57 am