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Theresa May: 'My scheme will reduce illegal stop and search'

DETERMINED: Home Secretary Theresa May

LAST WEEK, Home Secretary Theresa May announced the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, to which all 43 police forces in England and Wales have now voluntarily signed up in an effort to reform stop and search powers and ensure that their use is lawful. Here the Home Scretary writes exclusively for The Voice explaining why she is confident it will work.

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By Theresa May, Home Secretary

Since I became Home Secretary I have been determined to reform the use of stop and search powers. 

When used fairly and appropriately, stop and search is a crucial power in the fight against crime which affects us all. But when it is misused it is not just a waste of police time but also hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public. When innocent people are repeatedly stopped and searched for no good reason it is an unacceptable affront to justice.

The national statistics on stop and search are deeply worrying. If you are black or from an ethnic minority background, you are up to six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if you are white. Of the million or so stops conducted every year currently only about 10 per cent result in an arrest.

That is why I have taken concerted action throughout this Parliament to bring greater scrutiny to stop and search.

In 2011, I commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to inspect every police force in England and Wales to see how stop and search powers are used. The inspectorate’s report found that 27 per cent of the stop and search records they examined did not include sufficient grounds to justify its lawful use. In other words, more than a quarter of stops could be illegal.

Last year, I consulted the public about whether they think stop and search is used appropriately and fairly, and how it can be better targeted. The response was so great that I extended the consultation for a further six weeks and in the end over 5,000 people shared their views.

And in April I announced a comprehensive package of reform. This included a national review of training, the introduction of an assessment of officers’ fitness to use stop and search powers and the revision of legislation to make clear what represents “reasonable grounds for suspicion” – the legal basis upon which police officers carry out the majority of stops.

In addition to these changes, I am bringing greater transparency to stop and search by publishing the raw data on the government’s popular website, www.data.police.uk, and trialling the geographic mapping of stops and searches to allow members of the public to scrutinise its use in their neighbourhood.

The actions we have taken are already working. The use of stop and search has already fallen under this government. There are 12 per cent fewer people stopped and searched than in 2012, and the number of “no suspicion” stops and searches has fallen by 89 per cent over the same period.

But I recognise that we need to do more.

That is why last week I launched the Best Use of Stop and Search scheme, to which all 43 police forces in England and Wales have now voluntarily signed up.

Under the scheme, each force will record the outcome of every stop and search, not just those ending in an arrest, and say whether there is a connection between the reason given for the search and its outcome. They will restrict the use of “no suspicion” powers, which have been of such concern to so many, to ensure that their use is lawful and that senior officers have properly authorised their use.

Every force will increase the accountability of stops by letting members of the public go out with officers on patrol to observe their use. And they will introduce a “community trigger” so that the police have to explain how stop and search powers are being used after a large number of complaints.

The Metropolitan Police, which was the first force to sign up to the Best Use scheme, is already showing what progress can be made when stop and search practices are reformed.

Since February 2012, the Metropolitan Police has reduced the overall use of stop and search by 20 per cent and no-suspicion stop and search by 90 per cent. In the same period, stabbings have fallen by a third and shootings by 40 per cent. Complaints against the police have gone down and the arrest ratio has improved. Crime has continued to fall.

When I announced my intention for a voluntary scheme in April, contributors to The Voice newspaper were sceptical. You said that I needed to go further, to legislate to reduce the use of stop and search.

With 43 police forces in England and Wales signed up, I believe that this scheme will contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of these powers and better, more intelligence-led stop and search.

But I am also clear that police forces must deliver on these obligations. I will keep this scheme and the use of stop and search powers under review. This includes similar police powers similar to stop and search, including Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act, which I have asked the inspectorate to review.

If the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, I will return with primary legislation to make these things happen.

Because nobody wins when stop and search is misused. It is unfair, especially on young black men. It is a waste of police time. And it is a wedge between police and the communities they serve.

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