Police forces failing to understand the impact of stop and search

Police forces have made disappointingly slow progress in improving their use of stop and search powers since 2013, according to a report launched today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

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Stop and search powers 2: are the police using them effectively and fairly?

The report Stop and Search Powers 2: are the police using them effectively and fairly? sets out the findings of an inspection into the progress made by forces since HMIC’s 2013 stop and search report and addresses the Home Secretary’s new commission for HMIC to examine the way the police use powers to stop motor vehicles and strip search people.

HMI Stephen Otter said:

“Too many police leaders and officers still don’t seem to understand the impact that the use of powers to stop and search people can have on the lives of many, especially young people, and those who are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This is disappointing because getting it wrong can lead to resentment, anger and, in time, a loss of trust in the police.

“When we examined the way the police conducted traffic stops, we found no official record keeping and very little interest in how effectively and fairly these stops are being carried out, despite the disproportionate impact this power has on black and minority ethnic people.

“We found the same surprising lack of interest among police leaders about the way strip searches are carried out, in particular how they are used on children and other vulnerable people. The absence of official record keeping means that we are not in a position fully to assure the public that the way the police use these powers is lawful, necessary and appropriate.

“I was particularly disappointed that police leaders had not made more progress on our recommendation about finding out how it feels to be stopped and searched from the perspective of those who have been subjected to the use of this power. Forces still see low levels of complaints as a reason not to take action when we know that very few people who are unhappy about their experience will make a complaint (as low as 16% in our 2013 survey).

“I have recommended that chief constables should let the public and their respective police and crime commissioners know what they are going to do to make good progress against all ten of the recommendations we made in 2013, so that they can be held fully to account.”

In 2013 HMIC made ten recommendations to forces to help them improve their use of Stop and Search powers. In the intervening 18 months there has only been good progress against one of the recommendations.

Forces have made good progress in relation to the recommendation to improve the use of technology to record encounters. Since the 2013 inspection a further 11 forces have equipped some or all of their officers with mobile technology, which brings the total number of forces with access to this facility to 25. Four forces report that all their operational officers can use mobile technology to record stop and search encounters and a further six forces intend to introduce such devices within the next year.

However, forces are still not properly considering fairness in the way they use Stop and Search. Although most forces have conducted work within the past three years to determine the way they used stop and search powers, consistently this research was concentrated on effectiveness rather than on fairness.

Over half of forces reported that they do not proactively gather information about how communities react to the use of stop and search. Forces did not either routinely scan all complaints to see if they arose from stop and search encounters or proactively engage with community groups. HMIC consistently heard that forces relied on low levels of public complaints to indicate public acceptance.

HMIC was disappointed that only 12 forces reported that they took account of the information they gathered about dissatisfaction and used it as part of a structured process to inform future learning and improvement.

When asked to provide information about searches conducted involving the removal of more than outer clothing (including strip searches), only four forces were able to provide any information. It is clear that these searches are happening without proportionate and necessary levels of supervision and scrutiny. HMIC has made a number of recommendations to increase transparency and accountability relating to these highly intrusive searches.

For the first time, HMIC looked at the use of the Road Traffic Act power to stop motor vehicles. None of the 43 police forces had conducted any audits to determine whether or not their use of the Road Traffic Act power was fair and effective. Only three forces have a policy on the use of these powers and only two forces have designated a senior officer to oversee its use.

In the absence of official records, HMIC had to rely on its survey of over 10,000 people to find out the impact this power has on people. The results suggest that black and minority ethnic drivers are more likely to be stopped, more likely not to be provided with a reason for the stop and are more likely to have their vehicle searched.

Following the 2013 report, the Home Secretary introduced the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme in April 2014 to which all forces have signed up. Their adherence to this scheme, along with their progress in relation to the 2013 and 2015 recommendations will be examined during our annual PEEL assessments of forces.

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Stop and search powers 2: are the police using them effectively and fairly?


  1. In the 2013 report Stop and Search Powers: Are the police using them effectively and fairly, HMIC made ten recommendations and made a commitment to revisit the subject in 18 months to assess progress against those recommendation.
  2. In 2014 the Home Secretary commissioned HMIC to:
    • review other powers that the police can use to stop people, such as section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, in order to establish that they are being used effectively and fairly;
    • provide analysis of how forces in England and Wales compare with overseas jurisdictions, both in terms of the powers available and the way they are used; and
    • examine the use of search powers involving the removal of more than a person’s outer clothing, including strip-searches, to identify whether these searches are lawful, necessary and appropriate.
  3. HMIC required all 43 police forces to submit data and provide HMIC with an assessment of progress since the 2013 report. Inspectors also went out to nine forces to carry out in-depth inspection work. Surveys were also carried out with the public and police officers.
  4. PEEL is a new system of all-force assessments on the Effectiveness, Efficiency and Legitimacy of each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
  5. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales, together with other major policing bodies.
  6. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  7. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729