Falling stop and search figures illustrate a worrying gap



Analysis by Patrick Heron

There was a notable fall in the number of stop and searches carried out by the police last year, according to new figures.

The number of people stopped fell from more than 200,000 in 2014 to 106,500 in 2016.

But the number of stops recorded by the police still remain almost nine times higher than in 2004.


The figures underline a worrying gap in both the minority and majority communities.

As many as one in four of the searches yielded nothing to discover, including “intelligence” that did not come from police sources, or were later ruled ineffective.

Much of the detail is now published alongside the stop and search figures, which come as part of the National Police Chiefs’ Council strategy to tackle racial disproportionality.

When stops are not successful there are so-called “zero-tolerance measures” aimed at those involved in suspicious behaviour.

It means offending officers face disciplinary action.

However, there is considerable concern about racial disproportionality among the young.

This includes the fact that while 24% of all stop and searches were carried out on people aged 16 to 24, only 16% of youth offenders were black, and just 5% of white teenagers.

Despite the fall in the number of people stopped and searched, it is still far higher than at the same time last year.

While the Home Office has said the headline figures do not include all reports by the police, the bulk of the data are reported.

Experts describe the ethnicity of the victims of crime as critical to how police forces tackle the problem of racial disproportionality.

As a result, a review by the Lord Mayor of London, which will offer recommendations this month, will likely focus on whether a Greater London Police (GTP) pilot project, which scans the physical features of those who have been stopped to identify ethnic minorities, is working properly.

The Lord Mayor’s review of the pilot projects in south-east and south London is one of several data-driven reviews linked to the government’s flagship police reform.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Public and Commercial Services union will also launch reviews into investigations into allegations of racial disproportionality in the police.

However, despite these reviews, in most forces the picture remains of a huge racial disparity in what is being done to tackle crime.

Questions around disproportionality also mean the government is facing pressure from a wide range of organisations – the African-Caribbean and Asian communities, as well as the black and ethnic minority communities within the police.

The Metropolitan Police is grappling with the impact of two major issues: a huge reduction in policing in the capital over the past decade which may have created a perception of crime not being taken seriously and strains to adapt to the increased police presence in London following the terror attacks last year.

As part of the review, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will look at how the force determines the meaning of “act of terrorism” and how it uses the warning signs that criminals are planning to commit crime to justify the entry of a property or arrest of a suspect.

“In some places, this can mean that people are stopped when they happen to be on their way to the shops, when they’re going to a cinema, when they’re doing a bank transaction, so there can be a perception it’s legal and official,” says IPCC deputy chair Rachel Cerfontyne.

The report will take into account the increasing closure of drug shops in London.

Since 2013, the majority of London’s drug shops have been turned into coffee shops.

All of the changes are part of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to “go after” the dealers who try to operate without being caught.

The changes may impact the number of stops and searches.

A TUC survey found almost half of store staff who did not know about the shop reforms were less likely to recognise potential suspects than before they were given the responsibility for identifying a suspect.

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