stop and search: the facts

Faced with rising levels of serious youth violence, the Government has again turned to stop and search, expanding the circumstances in which it can be used without any suspicion of criminality.  

The narrative that stop and search is a hard-hitting and effective tool has set the trajectory for this recurring debate. But in fact the evidence indicates that increased stop and search has minimal – at best – impact on levels of violent crime and fuels distrust of the police.

Political leaders agree the root causes of serious violence must be addressed. How then can they disregard the clear costs of ramping up stop and search?  

What is stop and search?

If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you have been involved in a crime or thinks that you are in possession of a prohibited item, such as drugs or a weapon, they have the power to stop and search you under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

Under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the police can stop you without any suspicion at all for a particular area and time period where a senior officer believes that violence may occur.

The Government recently relaxed limits on Section 60’s use – limits Theresa May introduced when she was Home Secretary.

Under pressure from communities, campaign groups, and a damning police inspectorate report uncovering ‘alarming’ and ‘disturbing’ evidence the powers were not being used lawfully, Theresa May introduced a voluntary scheme in 2014 to address deficiencies of stop and search: the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS).

At the time, she committed to changing the law if this scheme failed to deliver the promised reforms.

Stop and search is discriminatory

Racial disproportionality in stop and search is at its highest in over 20 years – and is rising.

Under suspicionless Section 60, this is even higher. Our analysis shows that when the Government made it easier to use, it ignored its own figures showing a dramatic increase in how Section 60 was leading to disproportionate stops of black people.

Stop and search damages trust in the police

Stop and search is a significant intrusion into people’s lives, and pervasive and disproportionate use of the power has long term consequences.

Research attests that communities who are disproportionately and unfairly on the receiving end of stop and search feel profiled, targeted and harassed by these coercive encounters.

A recent study with young people on the Gangs Matrix found that young people identified stop and search as “the catalyst for the onset of their negative relationship with the police”.

Intensified and unequal stop and search drives alienation and damages trust in the authorities, ultimately making it harder for police to work with the communities they serve. 


"Stop and search is a hugely effective power when it comes to disrupting crime, taking weapons off our streets and keeping us safe.,” – Home Secretary Sajid Javid

The assumption that increased stop and search reduces levels of violent crime underpins calls to ramp up its use. The Metropolitan Police recently said increased stop and search had coincided with a fall in violent crime, but research shows that as well as damaging communities’ trust in the police, stop and search actually appears to fail on its own terms.

A 2018 study of 10 years’ worth of stop and search in London concluded that its deterrent effect in that context had been minimal, at best.

The Home Office’s own research found that in a previous huge surge of stop and search during Operation Blunt 2 – at the height of which a search was being conducted every 20 seconds – there was “no discernible crime-reducing effects”.

Moreover, the Government’s own Serious Violence Strategy notes that while “some have questioned whether the reduction in the use of stop and search drives an increase in violence, the data does not support such a conclusion.”

In 2017/18 of the 279,598 stop and searches with reasonable suspicion conducted across the country, 17 per cent led to an arrest. This is even lower when it comes to powers to stop and search without suspicion under Section 60 – just eight per cent led to an arrest.

The changes announced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid in March will make it easier to use Section 60 stop and search, making it even less targeted, and increasing the risk that its use will be influenced by bias and discrimination.

If politicians are serious about addressing the root causes of serious youth violence, they can’t ignore the facts on stop and search any longer. Increasing stop and search is not the answer.

Find out what your rights are if the police stop and search you

It has never been more important to know what your rights are when it comes to stop and search.

We’ve teamed up with StopWatch to produce this comprehensive guide.