In 27 per cent of cases police did not have reasonable grounds
This is the same as 250,000 people every year being stopped and searched
The report warns of the potential to stir-up significant social unrest
More than a quarter of police stop and searches are ‘unlawful’ and risk promoting ‘major disorder’, government inspectors warned last night.
In a blistering report, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary said that, in 27 per cent of cases, police failed to show they had reasonable grounds to carry out the search.
It is the equivalent of 250,000 people every year being stopped and subjected to hugely intrusive searches without the police sticking to the rules.
In 27 per cent of cases, police failed to show they had reasonable grounds to carry out the searches
Legally, nobody should be stopped unless there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ they are guilty of carrying drugs, weapons or intending to carry out a burglary or other crime.
The report – commissioned in the wake of the 2011 riots – warns of the potential to stir-up significant social unrest.
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It states: ‘Apart from the fact that it is unlawful, conducting stop and search encounters without reasonable grounds will cause dissatisfaction and upset, and whilst some may think it will help to ‘control the streets in the short term’, it may lead to major disorder in the long-term’.
The HMIC report, led by ex-chief constable Stephen Otter, is also hugely critical of the way police are targeting their resources.
Most police forces said their priorities were reducing burglary, theft and violence.
Yet only nine per cent of stop and searches focussed on finding weapons, and 22 per cent were for stolen property or going equipped to steal.
By contrast, half of operations were targeted on possession of drugs – usually only small amounts which would only result in a police warning.
Theresa May warned that police could be wasting hundreds of thousands of hours by interrogating stopping people who had done nothing wrong
The report will increase the clamour for a major scaling back of the stop and search regime.
Last week Home Secretary Theresa May warned that police could be wasting hundreds of thousands of hours by interrogating stopping people who had done nothing wrong.
Last year, police conducted 1.2million stop and searches – but only nine per cent, or 107,000, ended in arrest.
In some parts of the country, the figure is as low as three per cent, raising huge question marks over whether the power is being properly used.
The HMIC warned of a ‘noticeable slippage’ in attention given to the use of stop and search powers by senior officers since the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
Mr Otter warned that use of the powers was becoming a ‘habitual’ practice
Around 27 per cent of the 8,783 stop and search records examined by inspectors did not include sufficient grounds to justify the lawful use of the power.
Police officers are able to conduct stop and searches under 20 different powers, but the most common laws used are the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
The report found that less than half of forces complied with the requirements of the code to make arrangements for stop and search records to be scrutinised by the public.
And half of forces did nothing to understand the impact on communities.
The inspection found that the majority of forces – 30 out of 43 – had not developed an understanding of how to use the powers of stop and search so that they are effective in preventing and detecting crime.
Only seven forces recorded whether or not the item searched for was actually found, the study found.
Mr Otter warned that use of the powers was becoming a ‘habitual’ practice that was ‘part and parcel’ of officers’ activity on the streets.
Last night a Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary has made it very clear that the Government supports the ability of police officers to stop and search suspects within the law.
‘But if stop and search is being used too much or with the wrong people, it is not just a waste of police time, it also serves to undermine public confidence in the police.
‘That is why last week the Home Secretary announced a public consultation into the use of stop and search.
‘The Government will respond to the HMIC report and the replies to the public consultation with specific proposals by the end of the year.’
By James Slack
PUBLISHED: 00:03 GMT, 9 July 2013 | UPDATED: 06:30 GMT, 9 July 2013
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