Drive to reduce and reform police use of 'stop and search' powers

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Police are preparing to slash the number of stop and searches carried out in their communities as part of a crackdown on unjustified use of the controversial powers.

Forces across England and Wales will not be able to search people simply on "gut instinct" if they look suspicious, and will instead be told to record the reason and explain it to the potential suspect.

The drive, prompted by research into the much-maligned practice by the College of Policing, is designed to "give officers confidence to use their powers", with an extra focus on fairness, legality, professionalism and transparency.

Officers will also be given training in the new year to recognise their own "unconscious bias" against minority groups such as children and eastern Europeans. 

Garth Stinson, the College's stop and search lead, said the application of stop and search powers was a "mixed bag" across different forces.

He said: "We're trying to get back to basics - just because you have got information about somebody, doesn't mean you should walk with the assumption that you're going to search them.

"We should see a reduction in the number of searches that have to be carried out. But make no bones about it, we're also telling the officers - because the vast majority of officers are doing a tough job - (the public) expect us to search people if they have the grounds.

"What we want to do is give the officers confidence. If they've got reasonable grounds and they've got the power that they can search people, they must do it.

"There's a massive step between 'I've got a gut instinct he's a wrong 'un' through to 'that gives me the evidence to get in their pockets'.

"Members of the public who are stopped should feel they've been treated with dignity and respect."

Details of the training come ahead of the release of stop and search statistics by the Home Office on Thursday.

Last year's figures showed stops on people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds had fallen by more than two thirds since 2010-11.

Richard Bennett, uniformed policing lead for the College of Policing, said: "We can't account for all disproportionality.

"Because people from BME backgrounds very often live in disadvantaged areas, they quite often live in high crime areas, and they are disproportionately both victims of crime and if policing activity occurs in that area then there is likely to be a degree of disproportionality (as someone who is stopped).

"We can have these arguments until the cows come home, but what we need to do is make sure officers have the guidance and training so that every single stop and search they carry out is fully justified in terms of there being appropriate levels of suspicion.

"Every stop and search has to be legal, fair, professional and transparent."

He said he hoped the training would bring a positive change in communities.

He said: "We wish to see no unjustifiable stops.

"We want to say 'this is the training, this is the guidance, this is the standard, the minimum level of suspicion that you need'. Now that may lead to fewer searches being conducted, but the searches that would be conducted would be legal, fair, professional and transparent.

"We're not trying to reduce searches, we are trying to ensure officers have the confidence to use the power appropriately. If it results in there being few consequences, that's one conclusion."

The research for the roll-out was based on a trial involving more than 1,300 police officers. 

The research was commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission two years ago. 

Chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: "Stop and search must be lawful, non-arbitrary, non-discriminatory and based on reasonable suspicion.

"This is why we commissioned the College of Policing to develop a comprehensive stop and search training programme to help ensure officers meet these obligations.

"We worked closely with the College to develop and design the training to help police officers understand the importance of applying the rules fairly when stopping members of the public.

"Doing so is vital in building and maintaining trust between the police and the communities they serve, and increasing public confidence in the police."

Policing minister Brandon Lewis said: "We welcome the introduction of the national training and urge all forces to adopt this programme.

"Taken together with other key reforms, such as the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme, this work represents a further opportunity for the police to ensure that stop and search is fair, effective and used in a way that builds community confidence rather than undermining it."