We have long warned against the risk of police powers being used far beyond how Parliament intended, and in situations where there is no real cause for suspicion. Stop and search powers have been one of the starkest example of how things can get out of control.
The use of the powers have always been controversial, especially amongst ethnic minority communities, however there was public outrage after it came to light that between 2007-2009 450,000 people were stopped and searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act; none were convicted or terrorism-related charges.
As the Home Secretary told Parliament today:
“But as important as stop and search undoubtedly is, we have to be frank about widespread public concern regarding its use. Official statistics show that there are more than one million stop and search incidents recorded every year. But on average only about nine per cent of those incidents result in an arrest, and that figure prompts me to question whether stop and search is always used appropriately.”
Since the election the Home Secretary has taken several steps to improve the way stop and search operates, and we applaud her determination in bringing the system under control and welcome the consultation announced today.
The statement highlighted how the disproportionate use of stop and search both undermines community confidence and wastes police time, and set out plans to ensure the powers were used more sparingly, citing pilot schemes that demonstrate this is possible without jeopardising public safety.
The pilot schemes, undertaken by five police forces including by the Metropolitan police, saw a more ‘intelligence led’ approach to stop and search. This approach has been hailed as being a success by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, due to an increase in the rate of detections and arrests alongside a reduction of up to half the number of stop and search incidents.
The Guardian has highlighted that largest volume of searchers take place under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which require officers to have a “reasonable suspicion” they will find something. But concerns have also been raised about the use of “exceptional” section 60 searchers, which allow officers to stop and search anyone in any area where they believe violence or disorder is about to take place. The measure was initially introduced to help curtail football hooliganism, but has since been widely used to tackle knife crime.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to describe the many cases that people are wrongfully stopped and searched as being ‘a dreadful waste of time’ and we hope that her remarks will ensure that police forces are conducing common sense policing and are using the powers, which were intended for the most serious of crimes and terrorism, are being used correctly.