Police Stop-and-Search Changes
A new government code of conduct has been introduced which will see more than half of all police forces in England and Wales changing the way they handle stop-and-searches on members of the public, spreading to all 43 forces by November this year.
The changes were proposed earlier this year by Home Secretary Theresa May, who said that stop-and-search was being abused by police officers to the point that it was damaging relations with the public.
It was found that more than a quarter of all stop-and-searches last year didn’t satisfy the “reasonable grounds for suspicion” requirement, meaning that these searches could have been illegal.
“I want to make myself absolutely clear,” May said at the time, “if stop-and-search doesn’t become more targeted… the government will return with primary legislation to make these things happen.”
According to the College of Policing’s Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme, from now on, there will be more limits on stop-and-search – also known as Section 60 – and officers involved will have to record the outcome in more detail every time the method is used. A broader range of outcomes will also need to be distributed, such as penalty notices and cautions, which should help to determine just how successful each stop is.
At the moment, a person can be stopped without any grounds for suspicion when an officer anticipates serious violence. With the new code, however, this is the only reason stop-and-search can come into play without prior suspicion or permission, meaning that officers can only use Section 60 when it is necessary to prevent serious violence, and not as a means to an end.
Members of the public will also be able to apply to accompany officers on patrol and observe stop-and-search in operation, acting as a witness.
From next year, forces will be mapping out just when and where Section 60 is being used to see if an area is being targeted more than others, with the public entitled to be informed of why this is the case. On top of this, if a certain number of complaints are received about stop-and-search, the force involved will have to publicly explain how they are carrying out the method.
The Metropolitan Police in London – the Met – will be one of the first forces to put the new code into practice and Police Commander Adrian Hanstock said the scheme supports the Met’s aim of making Section 60 more effective and intelligence-led.
“The Met has made significant improvements to stop-and-search over the last two years,” he said, “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.”
Commander Hanstock explained that a more targeted approach to stop-and-search had resulted in greater success in finding weapons and stolen items on people who have been searched and that the force wants to increase its transparency when it comes to how stop-and-search helps the community. “But we, of course, recognise there is much more to do to improve confidence across all communities in the use of the powers,” he said.
Theresa May said she was delighted that all of the police forces in England and Wales have agreed to adopt the scheme. She explained that it should result in a better understanding of how stop-and-search is being used by officers. “I hope it will also go a long way to building public confidence,” she said, “and forging an important link between communities and the police.”