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Poor Use Of Stop And Search Found At Two Thirds Of Police Forces


5 min read

Failures in implementing Stop and Search have been recorded at two thirds of England and Wales’ 43 police forces according to the independent police regulator, raising doubts over Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s renewed push to ramp up the controversial policing tactic.

Separate data analysed by PoliticsHome also found that every force in the country had increased its use of Stop and Search. Last month Braverman issued a plea to police to expand their use of the tactic further. “The police have my full support to ramp up the use of stop and search, wherever necessary, to prevent violence and save more lives,” she said. 

A new report looking at performance in Britain’s police forces by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Services (HMICFRS) found that among the 43 forces misusing Stop and Search, police were failing to properly record whether officers had justified reasons for the practice, neglecting to equip officers with body cams, and disregarding training for officers conducting stop and searches. Every force in the country had upped its use of Stop and Search in recent years, sometimes by as much as tenfold.  

The police inspectorate told PoliticsHome that it has called for "further research” to ensure Stop and Search is used "effectively and fairly”. 

Some of the forces singled out for some form of criticism by HMICFRS – Merseyside, South Yorkshire and Cleveland –were among those who have seen the biggest increase in their use of Stop and Search since 2017.  

In South Yorkshire the force was singled out for officers’ failure to use body-worn cameras and the need to improve its “recording of reasonable grounds for stop and search”. 

Some of the criticisms were minor, such as Cleveland which was criticised for a failure to communicate with the public over a Stop and Search regime, many were more severe. Norfolk and Dwyfed-Powys, were singled out for failing to properly monitor the number and nature of the Stop and Searches they conducted. 

Many had failed to improve Stop and Search conduct since their last HMICFRS inspection, while others, like Wiltshire, had actually gotten worse.  

Roughly half (23) of police forces received ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ ratings in the assessment category ‘engaging with and treating the public with fairness and respect’ – under which Stop and Search practice is analysed. 

HMICFRS’ has insisted that the tactic, when used properly, was an effective tool for police forces to use, and concluded the majority of Stop and Searches were justified.  

But campaigners have expressed doubts over whether the tactic truly works, and the damage it does to trust in policing, particularly among the ethnic minority communities who are disproportionately targeted by the practice.  

StopWatch, a police accountability and reform group, recently released data that showed the use of Stop and Search at every police force had skyrocketed over the last five years.  

Using that data, PoliticsHome was able to establish that the number of Stop and Searches had increased significantly at every police force in the country since 2017. 

All but four forces (Dorset, Derbyshire, West Mercia and Warwickshire) at least doubled their use of the tactic in the last five years, with the vast majority tripling or quadrupling its use.  

Humberside, Merseyside and South Yorkshire police had seen the biggest increases in the last five years, increasing their use of the tactic by 1,396 per cent, 1,133 per cent and 1,037 per cent respectively. 

London’s Metropolitan Police has increased its use of the controversial tactic by 222 per cent since 2017. 

“Yet again we have a home secretary making assertions about stop and search in ignorance of the data provided by her own department and police forces across the country,” Habib Kadiri, executive director of StopWatch, said. 

“As the volume of searches has soared, arrest rates have sunk back to the extremely low levels they were at before the introduction of the best use of stop and search scheme (BUSSS). 

“However, far from issuing a warning over slipping standards indicated by HMICFRS analysis, she has encouraged police chiefs to go further, without once stopping to consider the tactic’s effectiveness. 

“We therefore can only conclude that the home secretary is hell bent on pursuing an evidence-free policy approach for the sake of appearing tough on crime.” 

Andy Cooke, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, told PoliticsHome that stop and search was “a crucial power for the police in both preventing and detecting crime” but stressed it needs to be “better understood”.  

“Its benefits need to be researched more widely, and the police must be able to show communities that they are using these powers fairly,” he explained. 

“That is why I have recommended that the National Police Chiefs’ Council, working with the College of Policing and academia, should commission further research to quantify the deterrent value of stop and search and the causes of disproportionality in its use. 

“This research could have a meaningful effect on police practice and help forces make sure that they use stop and search effectively and fairly.” 

A spokesperson for the Home Office said the Home Secretary’s decision to push for growing use of stop and search reflected that her priority “is to keep the public safe, prevent violence and save lives”. 

They added that "safeguards are in place to ensure that no one is targeted based on their race or ethnicity” and stressed that almost half of the 100,000 knives and offensive weapons removed from the streets came from stop and searches.  

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