Stop & search reform
Home Secretary Theresa May this week announced a major package of measures to reform the way the police use stop and search powers.
While stop and search is undoubtedly an important police power, when it is misused it can be counter-productive. It can be an enormous waste of police time and, when innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public.
The Home Secretary today announced that she intends to revise the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice A to make clear what constitutes “reasonable grounds for suspicion” – the legal basis upon which officers carry out the vast majority of stops.
The revised code will emphasise that where officers are not using their powers properly they will be subject to formal performance or disciplinary proceedings.
The Home Secretary has written to all Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners, telling them to adhere to the code’s requirement that they should make arrangements for public scrutiny of stop and search records so communities can hold forces to account. She has told them that if they do not do so, the Government will bring forward legislation to make this a statutory requirement.
The College of Policing is to review the national training of stop and search for all officers, and introduce an assessment of officers’ fitness to use stop and search powers. If they fail this assessment, they will not be allowed to use these powers.
Furthermore, the Home Office will work with chief constables and PCCs to explore the possibility of recording information on the use of stop and search via the new Emergency Services Network.
The Home Secretary also announced earlier this week that this summer the Home Office and College of Policing will launch a new “Best Use of Stop and Search” scheme. It already has the backing of the Metropolitan Police, the biggest user of stop and search in the country, and all other police forces in England and Wales will be invited to sign up.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police.
“The proposals I have outlined today amount to a comprehensive package of reform. I believe that they should contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop and search, better and more intelligence-led stop and search and improved stop-to-arrest ratios.
“But I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the Government will return with primary legislation to make these things happen.”
Forces participating in the scheme must
· Record the outcome of stops in more detail to show the link – or lack of a link – between the object of the search and its outcome, allowing an assessment of how well forces interpret the “reasonable grounds for suspicion” they are supposed to have. They must also record a broader range of outcomes, such as penalty notices and cautions, so it can be understood how successful each stop and search is.
· Allow members of the public to apply to accompany officers on patrol to help improve the community’s understanding of the police.
· Introduce a stop and search complaints “community trigger” so forces must explain to the public how powers are used if they receive a large volume of complaints.
· The Home Secretary said forces must make clear that they will respect law established in the recent Roberts case by only using the Section 60 “no suspicion” stop and search power when it is “necessary to prevent incidents involving serious violence” rather than just “expedient” to do so. For those participating in the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, use of Section 60 must also be authorised by a chief officer who must reasonably believe that violence “will” take place rather than “may” take place, as it stands now. Forces must also limit its application to 15 hours and communicate with communities before and after, so residents can be kept informed of the purpose and success of the operation.