UK government announce police stop-and-search powers rethink

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Home Secretary Theresa May in 2010.
Image: UK Home Office.

The UK government is to give new guidelines to police officers on the use of "stop and search" powers after a government inquiry found a quarter of stop and searches by officers may have been illegal. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said today she will introduce a "comprehensive package" of measures including revised guidance to the police on the use of stop and search powers. The new guidance would clarify what counts as "reasonable grounds for suspicion" under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

The reforms also include an attempt to push the police to make stop and search records public, and adding new "unconscious bias awareness training" to try to reduce the possibility of prejudice influencing decisions by police officers. The reform announcement follows a consultation launched last July into the future of stop and search powers by the government.

May says she is not going to introduce new legislation to change stop and search but has not ruled it out if statistics do not change: "I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the government will return with primary legislation to make those things happen".

May also told Parliament: "Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police".

Research into stop and search powers found only one in ten searches led to an arrest, and black people were about six times more likely to be the subject of a search than their white counterparts. Following the reforms, officers who misuse stop and search powers may be subject to disciplinary procedures or lose the ability to use stop and search powers.

The shadow home secretary, Labour's Yvette Cooper, said more radical plans for reform had been abandoned due to "regressive attitudes in Number 10" and the home secretary had "backed down" on the needed reforms.