All 43 police forces in England and Wales have agreed to adopt a new government code of conduct on the use of their powers to stop and search members of the public.
Home Secretary Theresa May had said the technique was being misused so often that it was damaging relations between the public and police. She said:
“While it is undoubtedly an important police power, when it is misused stop and search can be counter-productive. First, it can be an enormous waste of police time. Second, when innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public. In those circumstances it is an unacceptable affront to justice.”
The current powers for a general ‘stop and search’ are contained within section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE). A police officer has powers to stop and search a person if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect them of carrying: stolen goods, offensive weapons, knives and bladed articles, illegal fireworks or an article made or adapted for use in the course of, or in connection with a theft, burglary, TWOC, fraud, or criminal damage.
Similar powers are contained within section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 where an officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that that person, or a person inside that vehicle, is in possession of controlled drugs. Before an individual is searched the police officer must tell them: their name and police station, what they expect to find, eg drugs, the reason they want to search them and why they are legally allowed to search them.
Section 60 Searches
The implementation of the Best Use of Stop and Search Code will also bring more limits on using the controversial “Section 60” stops. Section 60 allows officers to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion in specific areas where a serious public order problem is likely to arise or has taken place and therefore someone may be stopped in a situation where serious violence is anticipated. Officers will need higher authorisation than at present to deploy Section 60 powers as currently only the prior authorisation of an officer of at least inspector rank is required.
Police will now record every outcome resulting from stop and search. As of 2015 police will start mapping where the practice is used so the public can see if one area is targeted more than others, and the public will be entitled to know why this is the case.
The changes are being brought in after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that 27% of stop and searches did not involve reasonable grounds for suspicion, thus meaning more than 250,000 of the one million searches conducted in 2013 were potentially illegal. In 2013 an Equality and Human Rights Commission report found that black and Asian people were still far more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by police. Black people were six times as likely to be stopped overall although in some areas this was high as 29 times in some areas. The commission concluded that the disproportion between different ethnic groups remained “stubbornly high”.
Statistics from the Metropolitan Police show that 251,161 people were subject to stop and search in the 12 month period up to July 2014, and 47,141 subsequent arrests were made. 115,270 of those stopped were white, 72,016 were black and 34,267 were Asian, with men accounting for 94% of all such searches.
Metroplitan Police Commander Adrian Hanstock said the new code “supports the Met’s ongoing drive to make stop and search more intelligence-led and effective”. He commented:
“The Met has made significant improvements to stop and search over the last two years to not only reduce the total number of people we search, but also to ensure that our officers focus on those areas and types of crime that the public are most concerned about.
“Our work with communities and monitoring groups is helping to ensure we are more transparent than ever in how stop and search helps to reduce crime and keep people safe.”