Stop and search: Police carry out highest number in seven years

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Police have carried out the highest number of stop and searches in seven years, with the figure rising by more than 50% in 12 months, official statistics show.

There were 558,973 stop and searches carried out in the year to March under section one of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Pace) in England and Wales, according to Home Office figures published on Tuesday.

The powers allow police to search people and vehicles for things like drugs or a weapon without a warrant.

This is the highest number of stops and searches since 2013/14 (872,518), but still below the peak in 2010/11 (1,179,746), the report said.

It is also an increase of 193,419 (53%) compared to the 2018/19, when 365,554 searches were recorded.

The report added: “The Metropolitan Police service accounts for half of the increase in the number of stops and searches in latest year.”

Other forces accounting for large proportions of the increase were Merseyside Police (7%), Essex Police (6%) and South Yorkshire (5%).

Out of 43 forces, all but three “showed an increase in stop and searches, although some forces showed smaller increases compared to others”, the report added, with Derbyshire showing the smallest percentage increase (up 3%) and Dorset showing the biggest percentage decrease (down 11%).

In England and Wales, there were 10 stop and searches per 1,000 population in the year to March, with the Metropolitan Police area having the highest rate of 31 per 1,000 population.

Of the 558,973, 73,423 led to an arrest, up 28% from the previous year (57,546).

The statistics cover all stop and search powers which police have under Pace, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Terrorism Act 2000.

According to the figures, there were a further 18,081 stops and searches carried out under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (known as an s60) in anticipation of violence – an increase of 35% compared with the previous year (13,414).

In 2016/17, the number of s60s reached a record low (622) following conditions imposed in 2014 when Theresa May was home secretary, which saw a rise in arrests and fall in use of the measure.

The latest figures show out of 18,081 s60 stop and searches carried out, some 255 people were found to be carrying offensive weapons.

The searches led to 698 arrests, with 187 of those for offensive weapons.

Last year the Home Office rolled back restrictions on the s60 tactic as part of a bid to crack down on knife crime and violence, which some critics branded “controversial”.

The powers, which can be in force for up to 48 hours, give police the right to search people in a defined area during a specific time period when they believe serious violence will occur.

A police officer at work (Joe Giddens/PA)
A police officer at work (Joe Giddens/PA)

Officers can look for weapons before they can be used, or those used in a recent attack and do not need “serious grounds for suspicion if serious violence is anticipated”, only a reasonable belief that a disturbance “may” occur.

The majority of stop and searches under both Pace and s60 powers (76% or 437,139 out of 577,054) resulted in no further action being taken, a similar proportion to the previous year (73%).

People from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were stopped at a rate of 4.1 times higher than those who were white, a similar rate to the previous year (4.3), the report added.

The figures prompted Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey to reiterate calls for the Government to abolish the “suspicionless” s60 powers by backing the Police Stop and Search (Repeal) Bill.

He branded the powers a “waste of police time” and said it “does not work to stop crime” but added that stop and search could be used “fairly and effectively” if it was intelligence-led.

A Home Office spokesman said stop and search was a “vital tool” for taking weapons off the streets and preventing deaths, adding that more than “11,000 knives, firearms and other weapons” were removed in 2019/20.

Data from Greater Manchester Police is not included because the force is still unable to provide figures due to ongoing technology problems.