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'Put cameras on cops to combat unfair stop and search'

RECORD IT: Lib Dems call from police officers to wear body cameras when carrying out stop and search

LAST MONTH, the Liberal Democrats announced its new manifesto policy with a specific proposal to overhaul ‘stop and search’. The party will be calling for changes in the law requiring some police officers to wear body cameras when they stop someone as a way to help transform community relations and build the public’s trust in the police. In November 2013, Equality and Human Rights Commission research found that black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, but in some areas this was as high as 29 times more likely. Here, Justice Minister Simon Hughes writes exclusively for The Voice to explain why the Lib Dems want change.


Last month, my party the Liberal Democrats announced a manifesto commitment to overhaul ‘stop and search’. We know how this practice can create tensions, disrupt community relations and damage trust in the police. Therefore, we want to tighten the laws and require some police officers to wear cameras when they stop people.

There are several types of ‘stop and search’. The most contentious type relates to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which allows the police to stop and search a person without suspicion. This type of ‘stop and search’ can happen in areas which have been authorised by a Senior Police Officer on the belief that violence has or is about to occur.

However, the blanket ability to stop and search anyone can lead to tension, as far too many innocent people are subjected to the practice which is often based on the crude stereotyping of minorities. This is something which cannot be ignored as it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

In November 2013, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, but in some areas, this was as high as 29 times more likely. In London, the findings were even worse with black people nearly seven times more likely to be stopped. The same research found that those from Asian or other ethnic minority groups were twice as likely to be stopped as white people. 


This is shocking and truly unacceptable. This disproportionate targeting of black people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds has damaged relationships between the police and communities. People feel, quote rightly, that they are being unfairly singled out because of the colour of their skin. What’s even worse is that these searches have not been proven to be effective, with only 0.32 per cent of Section 60 searches resulting in arrests in 2009-2010.

The Liberal Democrats want applications for Section 60 powers to be authorised by an independent judge on a limited basis who can clearly and objectively look at the evidence when deciding whether authorising the power is justifiable. We would ensure that reasonable suspicion is better defined so there is a focus on known criminals or those who match descriptions and not racial or age groups. 

We would also require all police officers stopping someone under Section 60 to wear a video camera. These cameras would then play an important role in not only bringing suspects to justice, but also establishing exactly what happened and who said and did what. This would also build confidence in the police and give reassurance that the actions of the police officer and member of the public are on record and they are accountable for their actions.

We would also support the upcoming College of Policing Review into training of ‘stop and search’. This will lead to higher professional standards for officers and the production of a best practice scheme. 

This isn’t about questioning the police, it’s about ensuring both the public and the police are protected. It will no longer be about accusations with one person saying one thing and the other person saying something different. It will be about the facts and ensuring everyone is treated fairly, equally and without discrimination. 

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