Forces working hard to improve their legitimacy but stop and search disparities remain a concern

Police forces are committed to sustaining and improving the trust and confidence of the public, but they risk damage to their relationships with local communities by continuing to be unable to demonstrate fair use of stop and search, according to a report released today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

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PEEL: Police legitimacy 2017 – A national overview

Police legitimacy is one of the all-force inspections carried out by HMICFRS as part of their annual PEEL reports. The inspections into police legitimacy have focussed on three main questions:

  • To what extent do forces treat all the people they serve with fairness and respect;
  • How well do forces ensure that their workforces behave ethically and lawfully; and
  • To what extent do forces treat their workforces with fairness and respect.

In this year’s report, one force – Kent Police – has been graded as ‘outstanding’, 35 as ‘good’, six forces as ‘requires improvement’ and no forces as ‘inadequate’. This is largely consistent with the overall legitimacy judgments in 2016.

HMI Mike Cunningham, who led this inspection, said:

“The extent to which police forces act in a fair and respectful way towards the communities they serve is a vital influence on public trust and confidence. So I’m pleased to report that the police service overall continues to demonstrate its commitment to maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public, including acting ethically and lawfully and treating all the people they serve with fairness and respect.

“We assessed well over three quarters of forces as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in this regard. But that is not to say that there aren’t elements forces could and should improve upon. Of particular concern is the continuing over-representation of black people in stop and search figures. Forces must be able to explain the reasons for any disparity in their stop and search figures if they are to enhance the trust and confidence of all communities.”

Overall, the report found that police leaders continue to have a clear understanding of the value of treating the public with fairness and respect, and they are succeeding in establishing this approach throughout their workforces. Forces are increasingly providing training in unconscious bias and communication skills to improve their interactions with the public and enhance the public’s perception that they are treated fairly and with respect.

The report also highlights further progress required from some forces on:

  • Compliance with national vetting policy;
  • Complaint handling, especially in responding to and investigating discrimination complaints appropriately;
  • Performance management for officers and staff; and
  • Access for officers and staff to wellbeing provision and support.

The report makes a formal recommendation around the use of stop and search powers. Forces should implement further training to tackle unconscious bias and should develop a more comprehensive set of data and information to understand fully, and address if necessary, any reasons for disproportionate use of stop and search. Forces should publish their analysis and any resulting action taken at least on an annual basis from July 2018.

Furthermore, the report addresses the significant variation in the use of spit-guards; the equipment used in some forces – 19 forces as of 31 January 2017 – to mitigate the effects of spitting or biting. The report recommends further consideration of their use and suggests that national advice or guidance would be beneficial.

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PEEL: Police legitimacy 2017 – A national overview


  1. The force judged as outstanding is Kent Police. The six forces assessed as ‘requires improvement’ are Northamptonshire Police, Cleveland Police, City of London Police, West Midlands Police, Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police. All other forces were judged as ‘good’.
  2. HMICFRS has not given Greater Manchester Police a graded judgment. This is because our inspection work was scheduled to take place immediately after the terrorist attack on Manchester Arena and, in consultation with GMP, we agreed not to carry out our in-force inspection at that time.
  3. On 19 July 2017, HMIC took on responsibility for fire & rescue service inspections and was renamed HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
  4. HMICFRS is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest. It assesses and reports on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime, anti-social behaviour and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence.
  5. HMICFRS inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing and law enforcement bodies.
  6. For further information, HMICFRS’ press office can be contacted from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  7. HMICFRS’ out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217729.