CONSULTATION: May said the power is a waste of police time if not used properly (PA)
THE POWER of the police to stop people on the street and search them is an important tool in the fight against crime.
It is particularly important in preventing and detecting street crime.
I support the use of this vital power and the important role it can play in helping the police to tackle a range of issues – from gangs to knife and drug crimes.
But I also want to ensure that this power properly balances protection and deterrence with individual freedoms. It must be applied fairly and build community confidence.
By far the majority of stops and searches are done under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which requires an officer to have reasonable suspicion that the person being searched is doing, or carrying, something illegal.
There are, however, widespread variations in whether stop and search results in an arrest – in some forces, only 3 per cent of stops and searches do so, while in others the figure rises to almost 20 per cent.
It is also true that people who are black or from an ethnic minority background are more likely to be stopped and searched using these powers.
We shouldn’t rush to conclusions about those statistics, but everybody involved in policing has a duty to make sure that nobody is ever stopped just on the basis of their skin colour or ethnicity.
Both of those disparities suggest that stop and search is not being targeted as accurately and effectively as it should be. Individual forces have taken steps to improve this, but there is further to go.
There is a further issue. If the police frequently use stop and search when they do not need to, then they are wasting their own time as well as other people's.
Stop and search was used on more than a million occasions last year. Given how long it takes to conduct a stop and search, and then complete the bureaucracy associated with each incident, that amounts to a very considerable amount of police time – around 312,000 hours a year, or the equivalent of 145 full-time police officers.
In times like these, it is important that we continue to do everything that we can to free up police officers to fight crime.
Last year, I commissioned HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to investigate stop and search nationwide, so as to identify the problems with it and how to put them right.
Their report will be published next week. But what people think about stop and search is at least as important as what the inspectors find.
That is why I have announced a major public consultation that will give you the chance to say what you think is wrong with the way stop and search is applied, and how you think it should be changed.