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Jul 4, 2013

Stop & Search Statistics Should Be Revamped Before Consultation Begins


The Home Secretary's decision to consult on the use and misuse of stop-and-search is a welcome move, but a true assessment of the controversial tactic cannot begin until an assessment is made of the statistics themselves.

The figures bandied about this week were 1.2m stop-and-searches in England and Wales over the last year with a 'success' rate of 9%.

The 'success' rate is the ratio between the number of warnings-and-arrests and the number of stop-and-searches made. Both figures are misleading.

SSLP believes the number of people actually charged with a crime following a stop-and-search would be a more accurate measure of success. These figures currently go unpublished.

SSLP also believes the number of stop-and-searches actually carried out is seriously under-reported with many young people saying they are not being given receipts following a stop-and-search that the statistics are based on.

No accurate assessment of stop-and-search can be made until these matters are addressed. Should that happen the success rate would be a fraction of what the police purport.

Furthermore, clarity must be provided on when stop-and-search is justified with the law setting out one set of circumstances and politicians another.

The majority of stop-and-searches are carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act. Both Acts state there must be 'reasonable suspicion' that a crime has been or is about to be committed before a search is permitted.

Meanwhile politicians state that stop-and-search is an affective tool to 'disrupt' crime and reduce so-called anti-social behaviour. The thinking behind this, it would appear, is that if people believe, through experience, they will be randomly stop-and-searched without 'reasonable suspicion' they are less likely to carry things they shouldn't or congregate in groups.

Not only is this not legislated for, but it essentially authorises and encourages the frivolous use of stop-and-search that is partly blamed for the breakdown in relations between police and the communities they serve.

In fact, based on the limited data available and anecdotal evidence from SSLP's own solicitors, a significant number of arrests following a stop-and-search are caused by a person reacting negatively to the stop or the treatment by the officers carrying it out.

The aggressive and repeated use of stop-and-search was highlighted as a contributing factor to the riots in 2011. Apart from officers requiring better training there needs to be an effective remedy for people to challenge officers acting outside the law. In 2012 the Metropolitan Police received 429 allegations complaining about the use of stop-and-search. Not one of them was upheld.

The apparent ineffectiveness of the complaints system serves neither the police in ensuring officers behave appropriately or the public in seeking legitimate remedy or venting their frustration.

We hope members of the public will use this consultation to share their experiences and publish them online for all to see.

It's time the public and politicians saw stop-and-search for what it often is before they are asked to judge.

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