Stop & Search – A (Not An) Academic’s Opinion

I am not an academic, never been one and hardly likely to become one now. I have, however, considerable experience in Research and Analysis. In the past few days I have been involved in a, sometimes, acrimonious exchange on Twitter with an ex Think Tank academic, on the thorny subject of Stop and Search.

It all started off when I received this Tweet

and then

Rightly or wrongly I just had to challenge them

Gavin then confirmed his assertions with

This exchange continued backwards and forwards over 2 or 3 days, with neither of us conceding that the other might be right. Gavin came up with an extract from some unidentified document that he had found.

Cheekily followed up with

A further refusal to concede that “we expect…..” may just have a different meaning. The mood of this ‘instruction’ is possibly revealed here

In the midst of it all I asked Gavin if he had ever spent a week with a Front Line Response Team, his response was

The argument continued backwards and forwards for a couple of days, I won’t bore you you with the actual tweets they are on our timelines if you want them. At some point it included “numbers versus percentages”. Academics love things in percentages, I prefer numbers. A good example of this is Stop and Search in the Met. The number of people stopped and searched has dropped off a cliff face. The percentage of those arrested has increased dramatically. Some Academics claim that as a success. The reality is that a larger percentage of a much smaller number means that about 15,000 fewer people are being arrested in the Met as a result of Stop and Search. Not exactly a huge success.

In an attempt to get a more balanced opinion than my own I posed the subject of the 20% Arrest Rate to 2 Facebook Groups for the Metropolitan Police. Most of the replies I received denied that there was such a policy, a small number remembered the policy but claimed that it was ignored as unethical, some claimed that it was misinterpreted and only ever implemented by a small number of Inspectors at Appraisal time. There was one response however that was quite illuminating and I brought it to Gavin’s attention (anonymised obviously)

Gavin’s response?

My final words

I have nothing against Gavin as a person, I have never met him, but in this particular exchange he seems to have formed an opinion regarding Stop and Search in the Met and was particularly unreceptive to any differing view. This is not intended as an anti-Gavin post, just expressing a different interpretation of the same document.

However, not all Academics are so insistent that Stop/Search is bad. I have always taken the view that Stop and Search conducted lawfully is a valuable tool and legitimate tactic in the war against Street Crime. Police Officers are fully aware of the requirements for lawfully conducting a Stop/Search under s1 of PACE, and attempting to fulfil an SMT-defined quota is not one of them. I wonder if all Academics are familiar with them.

Finally, I was reminded of the work of another Academic, Dr Marian FitzGerald, basically her recommendations and conclusions can be summed up thus:

Contribution of saearches [sic] to tackling crime:

▪ Searches contribute to the detection and prevention of crime through arrests, and through the intelligence they produce.

▪ The arrest rates tend to be higher for ‘low discretion’ searches, where officers have received information from a third party.

▪ The report claimed that the power has a general impact on crime prevention, demonstrated by independent statistical analysis. However, this important finding was disputed by the independent analyst contracted to carry out the investigation.

Patterns of searches:

▪ Officers target certain individuals who they perceive to be involved in crime locally.

▪ Officers may use the power of stop and search to disrupt groups of young people.

▪ The use of the power is still perceived as a measure of productivity although searches have not been used as a Performance Indicator since 1997.

▪ Most searches were carried out on young men, around half of which did not live in the local area.

Dr FitzGerald’s research was conducted quite some time ago, and is specific to London, but that in itself does not necessarily render it invalid. The two main factors that have changed since then are;

a) Crime Levels have increased

b) Police numbers have increased since the date of the report but are steadily reducing again.

In conclusion it appears that Academics do not all agree with each other, and some are not willing to listen to opposing views to their own, even when presented with supporting ‘evidence’. However I am still perfectly happy to support Stop and Search as a valid tactic, with the strict proviso that it is conducted lawfully. With the recent explosion of knife-related assaults and murders, robberies etc, it has to be remembered that every one of those knives is carried through the streets at some point. How else do we deter this epidemic without Stop and Search? It’s a serious question, I’m open to all suggestions, I just want the killings to end.

Any item of Academia that appears on my Timeline that reduces the opportunities to prevent the killings is not best received.


Whilst I was writing this the following response popped up in one of the Facebook Groups;

Considering S.1 PACE refers to reasonable suspicion I’m surprised that the arrest ratio to “lawful stops” is not higher. How can any organization legislate a specific quota of arrests to stops? So they don’t. In fact with all of the adverse criticism over the years stop and search has been reduced to a trickle……………

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