Extension of police stop and search powers — radical or rhetoric?

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It will further damage relations between communities and the police, argues Anonymous Rookie

The government, under Boris Johnson’s leadership, has announced plans to expand police stop and search powers. This article will consider whether the move is political rhetoric, or if we should be concerned.

Current stop and search law

There are three main statutory provisions the police rely on at present. Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) gives the police the power to stop and search any person or vehicle. The officer must have reasonable grounds to suspect that a person has: a weapon, illegal drugs, stolen property or an item that could be used to commit a crime.

Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 also gives the power to search when a police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is in possession of controlled drugs.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 empowers the police to stop and search people in a designated area during a designated time. A senior officer must authorise the power when they consider that:

• Serious violence will take place and it is necessary to use this power to prevent such violence;
• A person is carrying a dangerous object or offensive weapon;
• An incident involving serious violence has taken place and a dangerous instrument or offensive weapon used in the incident is being carried in the locality.

Once authorised, officers do not need to have reasonable grounds to search someone.

New powers

Under the new rules, the government has lowered the seniority of officer required to authorise section 60 to inspectors; extended the time period that a section 60 order can be in force from 15 hours to 24 hours (which can be extended by 48 hours); and lowered the threshold of certainty so the inspector must reasonably believe an incident involving serious violence ‘may’ rather than ‘will’ occur.

The Prime Minister has written there is “nothing kinder or more loving you can do when you see a young kid who may be carrying a knife than to ask him to turn out his pockets”. Anyone that has been stopped and searched will surely disagree with this view, and describe it as a humiliating and chilling experience.

Does stop and search work?

Undoubtedly stop and search is an important tool for the police but we should be wary whenever civil liberties are watered down.

The Home Office has said “stop and search is a vital police tool when used in a targeted and fair way”. Britain’s most senior police officer, Cressida Dick, argues that the use of stop and search has led to a 15% drop in the number of under 25s stabbed in London.

But the statistics make for depressing reading.

Police use of stop and search has been falling since its peak in 2008/09 but the use of section 60 has been rising, especially in London.

• 277,378 stop and search incidents recorded in England and Wales in 2017/18.
• Weapons found in 2.8% of these searches.
• 2,501 section 60 stop and searches executed in 2018 (four times the number in 2017).
• 2% of all stop and searches carried out under section 60 between April 2017 and March 2018 led to an arrest for an offensive weapon.

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We can see here that stop and search does uncover weapons in a small number of cases, so the Home Secretary’s argument that “just one knife seized during a stop and search could be one life saved” has some merit.

However, the national arrest rate for stop and search is 17%. When we compare with the 2.8% of arrests for weapons, that means that most of the arrests are probably down to drugs.

Arrest is not a solid indicator that stop and search is effective, because some people may react violently to being searched and be arrested for that.

You can manipulate figures and graphs all you like, but there is no denying that black people are more likely to be stopped and searched. Unfortunately, this has been increasing.

Black people were nine and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in 2017/18; the previous year they were just over eight times more likely, and in 2014/15 they were over four times more likely.

This disproportionality is defended by the Metropolitan Police, which claimed that those from an “African-Caribbean heritage” were more likely than white people to carry knives or be stabbed.

Are the powers radical?

The police in Wiltshire have said that the new section 60 powers will not have a large impact on their daily operations. West Midlands police have refused to use the new power. David Jamieson, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said that his force already have the powers they need, calling this “just another announcement aimed at getting a pre-election headline. It’s loud on rhetoric and quiet on detail”.

But section 60 orders are used regularly, most often after a stabbing has occurred. In August, a 15-year-old boy was stabbed in Lambeth, and a section 60 order was put in place. At Notting Hill Carnival this year, and the year prior, an order was put in place for the entire carnival. When four men were stabbed at London’s Eastern Electrics festival last month, an order was put in place in the borough of Merton.

Katrina Ffrench, chief executive of StopWatch UK, a coalition campaigning against the disproportionate use of stop and search, argues that weapons are more likely to be found when officers have reasonable grounds for searching.

She argues further that “officers do not have to use their brains, intuition or skills of observation to see if someone is carrying anything”. This “lazy policing” could damage the relationships between the police and communities.

The College of Policing has found that stop and search becomes less effective the more it is used. The likely impact on crime is usually “small, highly localised and short-lived”. Researchers utilising ten years of Met data found that there is only “limited evidence of stop and search having acted as a deterrent”. Crucially, the increase in use of section 60 did not appear to affect violent crime.

Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that the extension of section 60 powers will not bring knife crime down, will not make us safer, and will further damage relations between communities and the police.

Anonymous Rookie works at a City law firm.

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Please bear in mind that the authors of many Legal Cheek Journal pieces are at the beginning of their career. We'd be grateful if you could keep your comments constructive.


Search me officer

Yet more virtue signalling. If one is not in the possession of a prohibited article or substance, then there is nothing to fear.

I would much rather an officer search my person then a blade penetrate my chest cavity.

End of story.

Ciaran Goggins

Or that plod plant a weapon on you.

Me no like big racist copper, man!

Pass de duchy on de left hand säid!!!!!!

Ciaran Goggins

Except they are not big. Derek is 5 ft 9 (claims to be 6 ft 4) and half Jamaican. Derek hates his Dad. Why do we have to put up with “Reds” and his “medicine box”?

Barry Pidgeon

Mentalist Ron Broxted talking to himself again – he’ll swamp the site with this crap if you let him. Or don’t you care?


Please, OP’s toff constabulary do not need to resort to such underhandedness.


“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” ~ Benjamin Franklin


I note that the writer avoids discussing the relative rates of convictions for knife crimes between the black population and the white population. No shock there. The SJW out there do not like that sort of fact.

Cambridge LLB

It’s “cool” to be pro-Labour these days. When will these kids learn???


how about you post them then – obviously omitting london as a hotspot / “abnormaility” as we are looking for a U.K. median, and not being a narrow minded, racist bigot etc ?.

No to SJW

Exactly: the author uses “disproportionate” in blithe ignorance of the meaning of that term. If significantly larger numbers of a certain group carry knives, as demonstrated by the conviction rate for that group, it is not “disproportionate” to focus enforcement efforts on that group.


‘Black people were nine and a half times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in 2017/18; the previous year they were just over eight times more likely, and in 2014/15 they were over four times more likely. ‘

1) …pretty sure the black population is not 9:1 of that of caucasions in the U.K. (…guessing)
2) stops and search amongst the population, as “general statement” (“sarcasm”) is increasing.
3) conversely to “2” “knife crime” is the increase….

simplification for the racists – “if two boats went fishing in the same pond containing 20 hungry fishes, one boat went with 9 fishing rods, the other with a single fishing rod; who would catch more fishes ?”

(clue: it’s a probability question; not about fishing tackle etc. (on “blithe ignorance”)).


Why is a City lawyer commenting on stop and search? Are there no criminologists at hand for articles?


They are all off apologising for criminals.

Cambridge LLB

The police need more rights and even guns. Violence in London has surpassed New York. Thanks Sadiq! Thanks EU! Thanks ‘refugees’!


No it hasn’t. Absolute nonsense from a racist bigot.


No it hasn’t. Absolute nonsense from a racist bigot.

Cambridge LLB

Statistics are your friend. Use them, my uneducated and deluded brethren.


“Uneducated” – from the moron who couldn’t discover that Cambridge awards BA, not LLB


What stats are you referring to exactly? The homicide rate alone in NY is double London. Stop pretending to be a Cambridge grad to spread hate.

Hatey McHateface

Why so much hate here?

Have you not heard? Cambridge introduced LLB four years ago so he/she/it may be telling the truth.


I always knew Cambridge was lesser than Oxford.


Citation needed – I heavily doubt Cambridge would dispense with their BA tripos, there would be little point.

Their website documentation still states they offer BA, stop spreading fake news

Mammy Briscoe

“whether they are searched is dependent on the colour they are allocated.”?!?!?!?



There cannot be enough stop and search as far as I am concerned. If you aren’t weapons or drugs then there is nothing to be worried about.


see “socio-economic status” (i.e. “you wouldn’t understand”).

‘section 60 orders are used regularly, most often after a stabbing has occurred.’….

no point giving them “more power” …to be redundant ? (atleast not in any civilised, multi-racial society anyhoo…)


to Anonymous 1.08pm:
If you stop and search 8 times as many black people as white, but only find 4 times as many weapons and get 4 times as many arrests and convictions, then two statements are true:
1. more black people arrested than white
2. white people who are stopped are more likely to be carrying knives etc than black people who are stopped. which suggests that black people are stopped on flimsier grounds than white people. Or, if you really want to lean on the stats, that white people are more “ciminal” than black people.
You choose to focus on 1 and not 2. Why?


Unfortunately you only need to look at the majority of the victims to see those who are most affected by this – a disproportionate number of black people are victims (8 times more likely?)

I do not know what the same stats are for the perpetrators but those who are jailed for their crimes seem to be disproportionately represented too.

Food for thought, there may be some truth in the above comments, no matter how unpalatable.

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