The Equality and Human Rights Commission has just published its report, Stop and Think Again, on its efforts to reduce the disproportionate and over use of stop and search infive police forces (Thames Valley, Leicestershire, Dorset, the West Midlands and the MPS). Through a combination of setting clear aims, providing the right training, abandoning numerical performance targets, ensuring commitment from the top and holding street level officers to account, both disproportionate use and over use are down without impacting on crime rates, which have continued to fall.
By trimming off the excess fat, the remaining stops/searches have become ‘leaner’ (i.e. more efficient) with both arrest and detection rates improving. And by abandoning numerical performance targets ‘unproductive drug searches’ (that’s official speak for stops/searches of young cannabis users) are down too (except in Dorset where drug dealers coming into the area from outside are still being blamed for their strangely high disproportionality figures). But the report says a number of things that are in some ways more interesting than these positive outcomes.
Firstly, it shows that it is possible to change police attitudes and behaviour if you put enough of the right things in place, make sure they are properly implemented and threaten legal action for failure to comply. Secondly, it shows that the government was probably wrong to remove the statutory requirement to record stops and the outcome of searches if it is at all serious about eliminating disproportionality and improving the effective use of these powers. And thirdly it shows that stop and search has little to do with crime (even though it is referred to in statute as being so) and more to do with reinforcing an officer’s authority they need to show ‘who’s the boss around here’.