Police stop and search should become more transparent and accountable with the introduction of a new code of conduct.
The Metropolitan Police is implementing two aspects of a new Best Use Of Stop and Search scheme from the Home Office as of today: more limits on Section 60 stops and better record keeping, with data to be published online. Section 60 is when officers are permitted to stop and search anyone within a certain area without suspicion, when they believe there's a risk of violence. Notting Hill Carnival was subject to Section 60 powers on Monday.
The main changes to S60 appear to be that officers now have to believe a stop is 'necessary' — though to be fair, this has come as part of the European Convention on Human Rights and police forces would have to abide by the stipulation even if they didn't sign up to the code of conduct — and also that senior officers must have a reasonable idea that there will be violence, rather than it just being a possibility.
Better data recording and publication is perhaps where the biggest change will come, and is something the London Assembly has been calling for. Every single outcome of a stop and search must now be recorded, and next year the information will be mapped so we'll be able to see if activity focuses on particular areas. A long-held complaint about stop and search is that officers disproportionately target ethnic minorities while generating only a small number of arrests. Over the last year, 46% of those stopped in London were white, compared with a white population of nearly 60%, whereas 29% of those stopped were black in a population of 13.3%. You can see why community tensions are strained, particularly when around a quarter of all stops nationally don't have reasonable grounds and are therefore illegal.
It's a theme taken up by Home Secretary Theresa May in a statement to Parliament earlier this year:
"Official figures show that if you are black or from a minority ethnic background, you are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if you are white, and only about 10% of stops result in an arrest.
"In London, thanks to the leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, changes to stop and search show that it is possible to reduce the number of stops, improve the stop-to-arrest ratio and still cut crime. Since February 2012, the Metropolitan Police have reduced their overall use of stop and search by 20%. They have reduced no-suspicion stop and search by 90%. In the same period, stabbings have fallen by a third and shootings by 40%. Complaints against the police have gone down and the arrest ratio has improved."
Other measures in the code of conduct that will be introduced later include allowing members of the public to watch stop and search in action and setting a 'complaints trigger' — a level above which the number of complaints about stop and search would compel police to explain their stop and search policy to the public.