Stop and search: What you need to know

Faced with rising levels of serious youth violence, the Government has again turned to stop and search. The false narrative that stop and search is a hard-hitting and effective tool has set the trajectory for this recurring debate. But the evidence indicates that increased stop and search has minimal – at best – impact on levels of violent crime.

In fact, discriminatory use of this tactic fuels distrust of the police and can undermine the fight against crime in the long term by undermining officers’ relationships with the communities they serve.

Here’s what you need to know about stop and search

We’ve been here before

When use of the power peaked in 2008-09, it was found to contribute to a breakdown in relations between police and communities. It was reduced in the wake of the London riots. After years of decline, stop and search began to rise in 2018/19.

There are different types of stop and search

Under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, stop and search requires officers to show they have “reasonable grounds” to believe you’re carrying a prohibited item before subjecting you to an invasive public search.

But under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, officers can, for a certain time period, carry out searches without ANY “reasonable grounds”.

Both powers are deployed with discrimination

Under section 1, you’re 10 times more likely to be subject to a search if you’re black than if you’re white – a figure that has risen starkly over the last 5 years. This is hugely disproportionate, particularly given that the rate at which prohibited items are found is broadly the same across all ethnicities. People of colour are ALL more likely to be subjected to stop and search than white people.

This is even more extreme under section 60.  According to the latest statistics, outside London you are 43 times more likely to be subjected to a search with no justification than if you’re white – up from 26 times the previous year.


It can undermine effective policing

Research by organisations including StopWatch found rampant discrimination and overuse of stop and search corrodes relationships between police and the communities they serve – and undermines the safety of those communities in the long term.

This is supported by the Government’s own Equality Impact Assessment. It acknowledged that increasing the use of stop and search risks having a negative impact on communities’ trust in the police – and warned suspicionless stop and search could make this even worse.

There’s no evidence it works

In fact, the Home Office’s own research, the College of Policing’s evidence, and the last Government’s own Serious Violence Strategy all say there’s no evidence that increasing stop and search reduces crime.


In 2018/19, the use of Section 60 multiplied, yet the proportion of section 60 searches that resulted in an arrest was just 5 percent - a fall of 3 percentage points compared with the previous year.

Despite its own evidence, this year the Home Office stripped back restrictions on Section 60, making it much easier to deploy stop and search against people without justification or grounds for suspicion.

This is a recipe for discrimination. And demonstrates a failure to understand the experience of those at the sharp end of routine over-policing - as well as wilful disregard for the evidence.

Section 60 needs to be scrapped, and other stop and search powers must be limited.

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.


*The Home Office separates London and the rest of the UK in its overall analysis of discrimination in the use of stop and search, so we have done so to bear comparison. Population statistics are taken from the 2011 census, which is also used by the Home Office.