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Police Stop And Search Powers

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 February 1999

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asked Her Majesty's Government:To what they attribute (a) the 20 per cent. year-on-year increase in the use of police stop and search powers shown in the most recent national figures; and (b) the 60 per cent. increase in such areas as Devon and Cornwall and Kent while forces such as the West Midlands have decreased their use of these powers; and whether there is any evidence linking the level of use of stop and search to crime rates or clear up rate between areas; and [HL967]Whether, in view of the potential impact on community relations, they consider that a continuation of the current level of use of stop and search powers can be justified. [HL968]

The use of stop and search powers is an operational matter for chief officers of police. Several factors may influence the recorded level of use of police stop and search powers in an area. The factors include local operational priorities; the extent to which policing is intelligence-led; and the accuracy of local recording and data collection. The stop and search statistics show the proportion of stop/searches leading to arrest, but it is not possible from this to say exactly what proportion led to a crime being cleared up. However, Home Office research has shown that 11 per cent. of all arrests resulted from a stop/search and that stop/searches led to a clear up by charge or caution at almost the same rate as arrests arising from other circumstances. It can be deduced from this that roughly 11 per cent. of primary clearances by way of charge or caution arise from a stop and search.The proper use by the police of their powers of stop and search is an important weapon in the fight against crime. Research published by the Metropolitan Police Service in August 1998 found that stop and search accounted for 7 to 8 per cent. of all clear ups for burglary and robbery; a quarter of all clear ups for possessing drugs with intent to supply; two thirds of all clear ups for drugs possession and almost all clear ups for possessing weapons (

Stop and Search: Renewing the tactic published by the Metropolitan Police Service August 1998). Experience has also shown that there appears to be a relationship between the level of searches and the overall level of crime. For example, during an initiative in Tottenham in 1994 and 1995, recorded crime steadily increased as the level of searches fell. Similar findings have been noted in San Diego and the City of London.

However, the continuing disproportionate use of stop and search on black people in particular, as revealed by the latest figures published under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, is a cause for concern. Getting to grips with this issue will be a key challenge for the police service as it works to maintain the trust and confidence of all sections of the community. Proper supervision and management of police officers' use of their powers is crucial. We welcome the initiative currently being piloted in the Metropolitan Police Service to manage the use of stop and search fairly and effectively. The revised PACE Code of Practice, which has recently been approved by the House, stresses that supervising officers should address any evidence that these powers are being used in a discriminatory way.