Use of ‘stop and search’ powers by British police criticised by watchdog
Police failed to give ‘sufficient grounds to justify lawful use’ in 27% of cases
Thirty of Britain’s 43 police forces have failed to examine whether they are using stop and search powers to best effect. Photograph: David Parry/PA
More than a quarter of the inspections carried out on people on British streets by police under controversial “stop and search” powers are questionable, according to a major inquiry by a police watchdog.
Nearly 1.2 million searches – which provoke significant resentment in black communities, particularly in south London – took place in 2011-2012, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
After examining thousands of files, it said police failed to give “sufficient grounds to justify lawful use” in 27 per cent of cases, blamed on police failing to understand the breadth of the powers they enjoy, or poor supervision by senior officers.
Stop and search was blamed for sparking off the Brixton riots in 1980, while difficulties “both real and perceived” with the powers have “brought into question the very legitimacy of the police service”, HMIC said.
Under “stop and search”, police can detain an individual on the street if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that he or she is in possession of a stolen or prohibited item, but the reasons for the search must be explained properly.
Just 9 per cent of the searches in 2011-2012 led to an arrest, though HMIC said “there is surprisingly little attention paid by either the police service or the public to how effective stop and search powers are in reducing or detecting crime”.
Thirty of Britain’s 43 forces have failed to examine whether they are using the powers to best effect.
This situation has been made worse by cutbacks since 2010, as many forces have stopped collecting the statistics.
“Apart from the fact that it is unlawful, conducting stop and search encounters without reasonable grounds will cause dissatisfaction and upset, and whilst some may think it will help to ‘control the streets’ in the short-term, it may lead to major disorder in the long-term,” the report said.
Offering examples where stop and search had clearly worked, it said police, who had become suspicious about a driver, found a 12-year-old girl inside who had been raped by a gang of men, while in the northeast officers found millions of pounds worth of drugs after a routine car number check.