UK to change police 'stop-and-search' guidelines

British home secretary's plans greeted with disappointment by rights groups

British home secretary's plans greeted with disappointment by rights groups

LONDON - The British Home Secretary Theresa May has outlined plans to change the way in which police carry out "stop-and-search" operations in the U.K. 

May said on Wednesday: "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."

The move comes after government carried out a consultation into stop-and-search powers and received more than 5,000 responses. 

She told the Parliament that while 76 percent of people aged between 55 and 74 thought stop-and-search powers were effective, only 38 percent of people aged between 18 and 24 agreed.

While 66 percent of white people thought the powers effective, only 38 percent of people of African descent agreed. 

The Home Secretary commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to inspect forces in England and Wales to check how stop-and-search operations were carried out. 

They found that 27 percent of the records they examined did not contain reasonable grounds to search people.

- 'Clear message'

The revised code will emphasize that where officers are not using their powers properly, they will be subject to formal performance or disciplinary proceedings.

May said that she had asked for an assessment of officers’ fitness to be able to use stop-and-search, adding: "I want this to send the clearest possible message -- if officers do not pass this assessment, if they do not understand the law or they do not show they know how to use stop-and-search powers appropriately, they will not be allowed to use them."

The home secretary also asked police forces to sign up to a new "Best Use of Stop-and-Search" scheme, which had the backing of the Metropolitan police. 

However, May has not changed the law, but said that if the number of stop-and-searches did not come down that she would seek a change. 

Currently police can stop and search individuals if they have suspicion that they may be involved in crime, but section 60 of the Criminal Evidence Act allows police to carry out stop-and-search without suspicion if the police believe that violence may take place.

She said that they would "raise the level of authorization to a chief officer and that officer must reasonably believe that violence 'will' take place rather than 'may', as things stand now."

- 'Hugely damaging'

Recent figures show that people of African descent or with minority ethnic background are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than their white counterparts. Also, only 10 percent of stops result in an arrest. 

May said: "When innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public. In those circumstances, it is an unacceptable affront to justice."

May was criticized by rights groups for not going far enough.

Rachel Robinson from the advocacy group Liberty said: "For too long now, governments have talked tough on racism but maintained stop-and-search without suspicion -- a power steeped in discrimination.

"Today’s intervention from the home secretary continues that trend. A half-hearted mix of voluntary, patchy measures, while telling the police to follow their own current codes of practice, is no fix. Public trust is wearing thin and today was a missed chance for real change."

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