Earlier this month, the Home Office confirmed that the Police will be publishing data on how fairly and effectively forces are using stop and search powers. John Harding examines what this transparency drive might mean and whether police officers will be held to account for abuse of powers.

Coming to a road near you?

Currently 25 police forces publish their stop and search data by using crime maps on the Police site. Search for your own street! – a simple click on a map will divulge where stop and searches took place and the reason and outcome.

From now on 40 forces will publish data showing how fairly and effectively forces are using these powers. This is the latest move in a series of measures to reform police use of stop and search.  You can now also see the proportion of these outcomes that were linked to the purpose of the search.  The data also provides a breakdown of the ethnicity and age of people stopped and searched and the time of day stops are carried out - on a monthly basis.  Figures suggest that stop and search powers are still being used disproportionately against young people from ethnic backgrounds. (See the report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies ‘HMIC’).

Polite Policing: is it enough?

Indeed, one Police and Crime Commissioner has gone one step further in trying to repair this relationship by calling on police officers to apologise to those who were inappropriately stopped.  A Guardian report from 18th August, profiles the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire Adam Simmonds’ approach – “If someone is stopped for no reason or inappropriately then that person is a victim. I want the restorative justice approach for cops. I want a cop to say sorry.”

The report also sheds light on how sanctions have been introduced to strip a police officer of the right to stop and search suspects. This would be where they are deemed to have abused this enforcement tool on three occasions.  The Guardian article reports that so far the force has seen eight police officers banned from being able to use stop and search power on the streets. Six of the officers have seen their powers reinstated after completing additional training, while two remain unable to conduct searches.

Yet is this enough?

Can an apology really be enough given the apparent disproportionate use of these powers? Has disciplinary action also been taken? Using our Northamptonshire example, for the 975 stop and searches that took place in Northamptonshire between February 2015 and June 2015 71.28% had no further action taken. The rest resulted in some police action – with only 2.36% cautioned; 8.62% given drugs possession warning; 14.87% arrested; 0.62% “local resolution”; 0.62% penalty notice; and 1.64% summoned to court.

What next?

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, had previously threatened that she is prepared to legislate to curb the “excessive and disproportionate” use of these powers if the police record does not improve. It will be interesting to see whether these regular reports with their detailed statistics will have any impact on how these powers are actually used.