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Commissioner’s Response to the Home Office Stop and Search Powers Consultation

17th September 2013

Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

Response to the Home Office Stop and Search Powers Consultation

September 2013

The use of police Stop and Search powers can be an effective tool for police officers in the prevention and detecting of crime and anti-social behaviour. However, it is a power that must be used proportionally. While Northumbria Police is the only force [1] to stop and search less Black and Minority Ethnic members of local communities than white, it is essential that the use of Stop and Search nationally is not used disproportionately along racial lines and with a lack of understanding of cultural issues.

A common sense approach to the use of Stop and Search powers is essential. Effective policing and especially effective community policing relies on public support. There is a real danger that each incorrectly used Stop and Search that steps away from highest standards of respect, common courtesy, cultural awareness and with a clear explanation of why the measure is being used will lead to the loss of the support in communities. Individuals being repeatedly stopped or receiving a negative experience of the police will invariably detail their experiences of the police to family and friends. This can have a corrosive effect within communities and affect future attitudes and community cooperation and trust and make policing that much harder. There is a danger that the over use of Stop and Search could lead to a build-up of community tensions that can erode and fracture community confidence and in extreme instances result in more serious public disorder. The social consequences of being detained under Stop and Search should not be under estimated. It can be distressing, humiliating and is an invasion of privacy.

HMICs inspection report [2] in to Stop and Search found that over 1 in 4 of the 8,783 stop and search records examined by HMIC did not include sufficient grounds to justify the lawful use of the power. The reasons for this included poor understanding amongst officers about what constitutes the ‘reasonable grounds’ needed to justify a search; poor supervision; and an absence of direction and oversight by senior officers. Good training

of all officers using the powers needs to be established to ensure that police officers treat all people regardless of age or ethnic origin the same courteous and respectful manner and understand cultural differences but as importantly, officers understand themselves what constitutes an appropriate use of Stop and Search powers. It is also a sensible measure to ensure literature around an individual’s rights in respect of Stop and Search are widely available and could be supplied to a detainee by each officer undertaken this action.

Consideration also needs to be given to the challenging economic conditions and the need for providers of public services to be able to continue to deliver excellence and value for money. The overall national conversion rate of Stop and Search in to an actual arrest is currently low. In reality, conversion rate of approximately one in ten and the length of time each individual Stop and Search takes, needs to be balanced against other local priorities. The issue is whether there are alternative uses this resource that could be used more effectively and used to deliver better value for money. The future use of more hand held recording devices should be able to make an impact in the future level of bureaucracy around Stop and Search but the level of bureaucracy must be held against a common standard of use and accountability and the necessary measure of recording of reasons for stopping and searching an individual.

The process of being stopped and searched should be of a consistently high standard and not differ between policing areas so there is a postcode-lottery style approach to the use of this this power. It is essential that police officers remain under a national requirements to record the information set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) and the Misuses of Drugs Act 1971, and that the qualifying factors that lead to any use of Stop and Search are recorded so they can be checked and quality assured to ensure the use of these powers are used appropriately and the use of it by individual officers can also be monitored. Currently there is insufficient information available to the public to determine whether Stop and Search is actually effective. The publication of data on around Stop and Search could have a positive impact on community cohesion and ensure the police are encouraged to use this power appropriately.

Ultimately the use of these powers must be intelligence led with reasonable suspicion and less random stops. By using intelligence for example, on individuals who have been identified via use of CCTV such as under suspicion of shoplifting or reported by credible witnesses as carrying an offensive weapon, could see the impact of converting stop and searching to higher rates of arrests and be a useful measure in helping the police service tackle a variety of offences including street robbery and other acquisitive crime.

Currently the low conversion rate to arrest suggests there are Stop and Search powers being used where there is insufficient reasonable grounds to detain someone. It is difficult, therefore, to consider it as an accurate measure of police performance. Arrests and subsequent convictions would be a more useful measure in assessing how effective powers are being utilized. However as a recent report co-authored by the London School of Economics [3] highlights the use of powers and cautions after a Stop and Search needs to be proportionate and applied fairly towards all groups.

In conclusion there needs to be:

  • An understanding by serving officers what constitutes and appropriate use of stop and search.
  • An understanding of the use of Stop and Search powers can be distressing and humiliating for those detained.
  • An understanding the use of Stop and Search by police officers should generally be intelligence led based upon an officer having reasonable grounds and each person stopped and search should be treated with respect regardless of age, race or culture and should receive the same and be provided with a reason for the Stop and Search.
  • Training around the use of Stop and Search needs to be regular and monitored.
  • Data assessment of its use and subsequent arrests needs to be more widely available.

  1. – Niamh Eastwood, Michael Shiner and Daniel Bear, 2013
  3. The Numbers in Black And White: Ethnic Disparities In The Policing And Prosecution Of Drug Offences In England And Wales