Changes being introduced to police ‘stop and search’ powers

Published 1 May 2014

A package of measures to reform the way the police use stop and search powers was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May.

When used properly, stop and search powers are an important tool in helping the police fight and prevent crime. However, when innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public and is a waste of police time.

Following a public consultation last year, the Home Secretary 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 disciplinary action will be taken against officers who are not using their powers properly.

The Home Secretary has also asked the police to publish their stop and search records so communities can hold forces to account. Stop and search data will be added to this site, allowing you to see how your police force is using stop and search.

The College of Policing will also review how officers are trained to use stop and search powers, and a new assessment of officers’ ability to use stop and search powers will be introduced. Officers will only be allowed to use these powers if they pass the assessment.

A new “Best Use of Stop and Search” scheme will be launched later this year. Forces participating in the scheme must:

  • Record the outcome of stops in more detail to show the link between the object of the search and its outcome, allowing an assessment of how well forces interpret the “reasonable grounds for suspicion” they must have. They must also record a broader range of outcomes, such as penalty notices and cautions, to show 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”. If forces receive a large volume of complaints, they must explain to the public how powers are used.
  • Forces will make clear to communities that by making authorisations under Section 60 that it is necessary rather than just expedient to do so. In addition, forces in the scheme will raise the level of authorisation to a senior officer and that officer must reasonably believe that violence will take place rather than may. All forces, including those not in the scheme, must ensure that Section 60 stop and search is applied in accordance with case law and only used if necessary.

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.”

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