Stop and search: Police 'must record vehicle stops'

Police checking vehicles Image copyright PA

Police forces in England and Wales must record the stops they carry out on motorists, a review has said.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) made the recommendation amid concerns that black and minority ethnic drivers are disproportionately affected.

It called for forces to make official records of vehicle stops, which they currently are not required to do.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the powers "must be properly targeted".

Stop and searches on the street are recorded, but the police watchdog also criticised senior officers for failing to improve the use of these powers or to understand their impact.


The inspector who led the research, Stephen Otter, said the review had found no official record keeping of vehicle stops and "very little interest" in how effectively and fairly the stops were carried out.

He said a large-scale public survey suggested vehicle stops were unfairly targeting ethnic minority groups who were more likely than white people not to be given a reason for the stop.

The online survey of 10,094 people - including 7,501 drivers - found that 47% had been in a vehicle when it had been stopped by police.

It suggested 7% to 8% of white drivers had been stopped in the last two years, compared with 10% to 14% of black and ethnic minority drivers.

An initial HMIC report in 2013 found that stop and search could have been used illegally one in four times.

But the watchdog said that despite making 10 recommendations to improve police use of the powers, since then good progress had been made in only one area - improving the use of technology to record encounters.

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Image caption Most forces do not take records of intrusive searches, according to the HMIC

Mr 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 people, 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."

Mr Otter said there was a "lack of empathy" among police officers about the impact of the powers, noting 90% of those stopped were not prosecuted.

In a report on stop and search powers, the watchdog also found that most forces did not record whether strip searches were involved, and kept no detail of who they stopped or how often.

It said, though, "these intrusive searches are carried out in such numbers as to suggest there should be rigorous oversight".

HMIC said that within three months police forces should require officers to record all searches involving the removal of more than an outer coat, jacket or gloves.

'Budget cuts'

Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock, from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said he agreed there was an "urgent need" for national training, as well as a clearer definition of what constituted fair use of stop and search powers.

He said these steps would give both the public and the police "more confidence".

Ms May said that although the number of stops and searches had fallen by a third under the current government, it was clear the police had "failed to address" many of the issues in the HMIC's 2013 report.

The home secretary pledged to change the law if the use of stop and search did not become more targeted.

Jack Dromey, shadow policing minister, said too little had been done by the government to properly overhaul the stop and search system.

"This report should be a wake-up call to everyone. We need real reform, not more tinkering at the edges," he said.

The HMIC's report found that more than a third of the 12,000 police officers surveyed felt under pressure to carry out fewer stop and searches, while a quarter said they were under pressure to stop using the power entirely.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Police officers have to record when they use stop and search powers against people on the streets

The study also found that a small minority of officers were arresting people in order to search them, therefore avoiding scrutiny of the stop and search powers.

Paul Ford, from the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, agreed more needed to be done to strengthen training but said further funds would be needed.

"It does not come as a surprise that this report has recognised the lack of scrutiny from front-line supervisors as they are struggling to cope with budget cuts which have severely affected officer numbers," he said.

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