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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 18:08 GMT
Stop and search: An officer's view
Police search man
Stop and search powers could be more widely used
Labour and the Conservatives are both calling for the greater use of stop and search powers by police to combat gun and knife crime.

Here a community police officer from West Yorkshire, who has asked not to be named, gives his personal view on the debate.

I am a serving police officer in West Yorkshire and would like to dispel some of the myths around stop search policy and implementation.

At the moment, any police officer has the power to stop and search someone if they have the grounds to believe they are concealing something prohibited in law.

That could be either a weapon, drugs or something to help them gain entry to something they should not be allowed to.

The word 'believe' has great meaning in this context as it has to be backed up by some other tangible evidence - a knowledge that this person has carried a weapon before is not grounds on it own.

It has to be backed up by further evidence.


You have to build a picture and quantify why you are conducting this search and what you are looking for.

You then have a small form to fill out at the time of the search and offer a copy to the person you are dealing with.

The issues around this are that police work through intelligence. In London, for example, this might state that young black males are more likely to be carrying a weapon of some description in, say, the Brixton or Peckham areas.

Group of youths
Should officers be allowed to stop youths without reasonable grounds?

Should the police not act on such intelligence just because it may upset someone?

Or should we search everyone out on the street after dark so that we can possibly take some of the weapons from our street and prevent another death of some innocent?

Why does the right to a private life outweigh the right to life?

Anti-social behaviour

The other issue with the current stop search policy is the recording of people stopped.

I feel that some record does need to be kept; it again has great benefits for intelligence.

But when you are faced with a group of 20 to 30 youths all drinking and acting in an anti-social manner the logistics of filling out all the forms there and then are not realistic.

It can take about three to four minutes per form and longer with a Police National Computer check if the operators are busy.

Three minutes multiplied by 20 youths equals time not spent dealing with other problems.

Disadvantaged people

It may not be politically correct, but the police need to be given their power of discretion back and the ability to randomly stop anyone and check them - no grounds, no comeback.

I feel very strongly about the way our streets are being lost or given up due to ineffectual policy

I have stop searched literally hundreds of people during my time as a police officer, many of whom I have never met before.

I can say that about 95% of those checked have some form of criminal background.

This is not because I'm a supercop or that I can read minds - it's just what we do.

We work with some of the most disadvantaged people in society and you learn to read body language and pick up the signs of someone trying to hide something. This has been referred to as a "copper's nose".

Drug dealers

I may not have the grounds to search, but I know something's wrong, what should I do?

Or, when seeing a person who I know is a regular heroin user or dealer and they are probably carrying drugs, if they do not do anything to give me the grounds to search and they know the law just as well as me, I have to let them walk by and do nothing.

Surely having been convicted of drugs offences, part of the punishment would be a period where the police can stop search without reason for a determined period no longer than one year?

I feel very strongly about the way our streets are being lost or given up due to ineffectual policy that is binding the officers trying to do their best in an ungrateful world.

Here is a selection of your comments:

As a serving police officer I can truly say that I have never stopped anyone because they are black, asian or any other minority you care to mention. I stop people because I believe they are involved in criminal activity nothing else. I and 99% of my colleagues carry out our duties to the best of our abilities every time we put on our uniforms. No one knows our beats better than us nor the people that make those areas unsafe. You could pay a thousand people who have never carried out police duties to conduct their own research and they would all arrive at different conclusions. Unless you go out and patrol those areas for years you will never have the knowledge police officers have. Clearly we need to be left to use our discretion more often and be left alone by those setting targets for their own, mainly political, gain. All of the officers I know are honest, trustworthy and dedicated to their jobs. We all have our own families and property to protect the same as anyone else. We are also victims of crime and anti social behaviour and understand the problems people face when they report their problems to us. The problems facing us are not just about the police but society as a whole and unless we all pull together as communities nothing will improve. However, and I accept that the police need to be at the forefront of this, it has to be everyone taking responsibilty and helping in a positive manner that will improve all of our lives
Anon, Portsmouth

How can people be complaining about a racist police force? The vast majority of people living in Brixton and Peckham are black, this is an undeniable fact! therefore of course more black people will be stopped and searched! this is unavoidable! If they purposefully stopped more white people in these areas to look non-racist then surely they are unfairly discriminating against them! We need to abolish this politically correct culture, cut back the red tape and get a grip on this country before it gets any worse than it is!

As a seventeen-year-old white girl living in a really stuck-up area, you might wonder why I have a strong opinion on this. Personally, I would hate to be stop-searched and treated like a criminal for no apparent reason and I truly sympathise with those who experience the harrassment of continual s-s. I really don't think the police need extra powers, but this isn't about me, this isn't about individuals, this is about what is best for society. Which, just so happens, is NO EXTRA POWERS. I'm doing Law A level, which inlcudes learning about police powers. I think that the current law is too vague and subjective. The reason that a lot of people think that officers make up the reasonable grounds for suspicion is that every single person in the country, policemen and women included, has a different view of what they term reasonable grounds. People have always felt threatened if they do not understand something. From a neutral, law student's point of view, then, I don't think they need extra powers, I think we need far, far clearer guidelines that are accessible for both the police and the public. Then people will know whether they are being harrassed without reason or whether they will have to accept (as grudgingly as I accept having my stuff thrown about by airport staff because it's 'just a random search') that the police are perhaps not always in the wrong.
Kim, Winchester, UK

I believe it is stupid how you cannot give officers the ability to stop and search who they need to. Many people complain of racism, but look at the papers and see how many young people have been shot/stabbed who are white. Not many. Whereas there are plenty of black/coloured young people who have been stabbed/shot. Therefore they are the ones who are carrying the guns/knives, if these people are not searched due to apparent racism then gun/knife crime will rise.
Ben Hedley-Smith, Whitstable

Folks in 30 years service I cannot remember ever stopping anyone without asking them to turn out their pockets. I'm not quite sure how Sir Ronnies new policy will have much effect. I dont stop people to tell them they have won the lottery. I stop them to see what they are up to and what they have in their pockets. I dont care if they are black , white, pink or yellow nor do I care if they are young or old. If my insticts tell me to 'turn them over' then thats what I do ( well did). Funny how these random stops have turned up some good arrests and you will never know how much crime has ben prevented by someone knowing they have had their name and address taken ( 1 minutework as opposed to 7 minutes form filling ) because they now know that we knew they were in the area. It doesn't matter that 99.9 % may be totally innocent, people who have nothing to hide are ofetn pleased to know that cops are in their area checking people. Dont take my word for it, isn't it the case that e! verone wants more cops on the street - YES - and what do they want us to do when we are there ? Wait for the crime and respond or 'check people to try to prevent it. You cant have it both ways Folks!
Glenn, IOW

I can't believe the government have paid Mr Flanigan to carry out an enquiry in to the obvious. They introduced the stop and account form, they introduced a target culture tied to funding and wonder why what gets measured gets done. Governments make laws not the police and we all know that this Government have excelled themselves on that front, believing they can legislate their way out of everything and tying the police up with more red tape than any government in living memory in the process. Hardly surprising the police have lost confidence every time they carryout some initiative to fight crime they are accused of racism or some other ism. If they are so bad at protecting us why are the prisons over flowing and the Government having to let them out early? Society is responsible for crime not the police, and it is society's vocal minorities who have exerted undue influence that have shaped the way we are policed.
George , Alton England

Fear not Kim. Winchester hasn't been left out because it's a stuck up area. I got stopped and searched for avoiding eye contact with a Police Officer at the city's railway station. Perhaps when you study for your Law A level you could let me know when looking where I was going rather than staring at Police constituted reasonable grounds for being stopped. Oh, I've just remembered I was stopped under the anti- terrorism Laws so no reason was necessary. Good job I didn't respond to the inane questioning (such as "Is that briefcase a James Bond style briefcase that will gas me if I open it") with an equally flipant response. I'd probably still be counting down the 28 days. I'm looking forward in the near future to the chance to apply for 42 days off work.
andrew pullar, winchester

The word Police derives form the Latin word polis, which means 'city'. So that would make a policeman/woman a man or a woman of the city. Yet, it appears to me that the police simply wish to make their own lives easier, and that they have stopped acting on behalf of the people. An officer who has it in his mind that they can decide on their own who the law applies to and who it doesn't apply to is not for the people. They are outside them, viewing each person with suspicion and contempt. Yes we must find ways to counter the supposed increase in drug problems, yes we must counter anti-social behaviour, but not at the expense of our personal freedoms, and not with police anti-social behaviour. The police are representatives of an ideal, they stand to protect all our country holds dear and if they are given the power to abuse a person's personal freedom at will, if they are given the abilities to flaunt the laws they are set to enforce, who will they stand accountable to?
Matthew Robins, Ipswich

Isn'tit amazing that people are quick to complain that the police are abusing their powers and have to much control over them. Yet when they are burgled, assaulted or robbed the police didn't do enough! We can't please everyone, but we do try to do our job and uphold the law.
matt hall, derby

The Balance of rights must be redressed. People should fear the police!
Tony Anderson,

In practice the police DO NOT NEED A REASON. Many times friends and myself have been searched due to how we look and dress on the pretence of a 'report' of someone our description. As important as it is to prevent illegal items being carried we also need a balance. Its easy for a middle-upper class person to say 'if you have nothing to hide you wont mind being searched'. But the reality is that being held up to a wall and searched in a busy local area in full view of family friends and community elders is humiliating and degrading. Extending powers is the last thing we need
Ahmed, Leicester

I say to the police, please continue doing the great job you are. We however need more of them on the streets. We need more of them preventing the yobs from ruling certain areas. We need more visibility, then maybe my house would not have been broken into, car stolen, my families rights violated, the lives of my wife & daughter put at risk. If you're not guilty of something then why worry if you are stopped in a random search. You should be glad the police are out & about.
Steven , Cardiff, Wales

In Brixton in the early eighties, before the hated "sus" laws were abolished, what this police officer refers to as "copper's nose" was largely to do with "copper's prejudice" against black people. When the degree of resentment about it in the community became high enough there were riots. Police shouldn't have the power to search anyone in the street for no reason unless it can be justified.
John Gammon, Brighton, UK

I don't agree with the proposed changes of stop and search. I think it will lead to harassment or a feeling of persecution for people in high risk groups such as 'young black males in Brixton & Peckham'. This is why we had the Brixton & Lewisham riots. If the law has to change then I think there must be provisions built in that allow the tracing of the actions of the police to gauge if they are acting fairly, and the persons stopped should have a right to know which members of the police force have stopped them -- perhaps by the officer having to provide some kind of 'business card'
Andy, London

When travelling by air I am always one of the people randomly checked by the security at airports, yet no policeman has ever stopped me. Perhaps policemen do know if someone is doing something wrong or concealing a weapon?
B J Nicholson, Crumpsall. Gtr Manchester

A colleague and I were once obliged to turn our pockets out because an officer thought my companion had directed an insulting remark at him. The truth was that, to this officer at least, my colleague's strong Dutch accent seemed to sound like rude English words. The officer didn't even look at me while I attempted to explain. We were two young white European businessmen, aged about 30, strolling through Lancaster Gate! My 15 year old son has been quizzed by police officers while standing alone on a street corner waiting for a lift from a friend's parents. The police seem to have this self-righteous image of themselves as astute professionals with finely-honed instincts, but if my experience is anything to go by they really can't be trusted to use such powers. I'm also annoyed by this whinging about an 'ungrateful world' - when did the police become a charity? Is this CPO 'grateful' to everyone else just doing their jobs?!
Zax, London

Ask yourself this: why would Police Officers keep stopping well-behaved, decent, innocent people? I'm sure they wouldn't keep stopping the same people if their suspicions constantly proved unfounded. UKIP says: "Let's give criminals a hard time; not our Police Officers!"
Peter Harper, UKIP, Liverpool, England

Since the 1960s, young people have been taught to be assertive. This used to be a skill acquired with age and experience, and still is. What they are taught has turned into a complete lack of respect for authority and their poor understanding of the subject makes assertiveness appear much more like ignorance and abuse. Change the attitude of parents and kids alike and the Police would have an easier job they could do better. They are underpaid, no longer get any allowances, like MPs, and are plagued with 'smart' lawyers who go to great lengths to demean them. Now they are buried in unenforceable laws and paper, ineffective and unnecessary paper, designed by lawyers and civil servants. Poor sods.
wickedlymale, Stockport

I agree with the officer, a very accurate appraisal of problems with the current stop and search system put forward in a articulate way. It seems that most of the comments above are made through ignorance of the current situation żon the streets' and do not realise the effective stop and search can be when dealing with prolific criminals ie. Drug runners/burglars/robbers. I dare say the next time one of the above is burgled or robbed they will have a lot to say about the poor police response, which it probably will be, due to too much red tape, poor recruiting standards and ridiculous/inappropriate targets. Most police want to do better for their communities but are tied to the station with paperwork: 1 arrest= 9 hours of paperwork! Where I work you will make an arrest a day so you spend 9 hours out of a 10 hour shift inside. There is no target for response times to 999 calls, resulting in it being almost random whether a police unit will arrive within 12 minutes of the call! . Recruitment is now based around diversity targets rather than picking the best person for the job regardless of background. Officers are constantly being investigated for malicious complaints due to common sense not being applied leading to inaction by police on both a corporate and individual level. The list goes on and the problem is much bigger than just stop/search powers. It is shame the police federation couldn't organise a march to solve these problems.
Lennox, uxbridge

If I happen to be required by a Police Officer to submit to a search I would do so as it is my responsibility to help him as much as I can. If I disagreed with this I would go and live in another country. Lets have more about peoples responsibilities and less of their rights. If you don't behave you have no rights.
David Sykes, Warton,Lancaster,Lancashire,England.

"I can say that about 95% of those checked have some form of criminal background." But what percentage where actually carrying something illegal on their person? "The word 'believe' has great meaning in this context..." And unless the police are required to give you written confirmation of WHY they believed it was justified to search you, they will stop anyone they want and never give a reason. If you ask why you have been stopped, they always take it as an indication that you are resisting an acceptable request. Why do the police expect people to respect them as adults when we spend our formative years being harassed by them and treated like criminals?
Steve, Peterbrough, UK

Your argument seems to be quite contradictory. On the one hand you say police need "evidence" to believe that a stop n search is justified for any given individual. You go on to state that even if someone is known to have previously carried a weapon that that is not justification for a stop. You do however make a generalised statement about African Caribbean males and state that stopping them is justified not on the basis of individual case evidence but on your general belief about Black/ African Caribbeans . Is it any wonder that the police are (accurately )perceived as a racist organisation? The intelligence you refer to is nothing other than blind prejudice because as stated you are not looking for evidence, just young black men in a particular post code. On the one hand you say lots of evidence is needed to search on the other you say black people are more likely to be committing a crime and should be searched. This seems to indicate that less evidence is needed by the pol! ice to stop and search black people than is the case with white people.
Marcel Osborne, Bristol

I grew up in Basingstoke in the South of England as one of a small group of friends whose common ground was Music, we all liked and listened to Heavy Metal Music, we wore leather jackets, we had long hair, big boots, the whole thing. What we didn't do was break the law, however that didn't stop the Police regularly stopping us and demanding we turn out our pockets and empty our bags. Want to know how many times they found anything illegal? That would be zero. However for a period of 6-12 months or so we were stopped almost every night. For every copper out there who wants to make things better there is a little Hitler who just wants to abuse his position. Police need to be accountable, if they harass people (and yes continuous un-substantiated stop and searches are harassment) then there needs to be a way for the victims of this harassment to come back to the Police and hold them accountable.
Stephen Mortimer, Reading, UK

This police officer, although putting it in a very nice pleasing form is talking rubbish, the police do not need a reason to stop and search you. If they want to then they will, they make up the reason as they go, I've seen this countless times.

All of the soft reassuring words in the world do not change the fact that the general public no longer trust the Police and fear the ever-increasing powers without any balance that the Police are acquiring.
sally marshall, bristol

The last paragraph says it all: "I feel very strongly about the way our streets are being lost or given up due to ineffectual policy that is binding the officers trying to do their best in an ungrateful world." Implementing these new policies are just common sense when faced with the increasingly volatile situation on our streets.
Andrew Hood, Edinburgh

" I feel very strongly about the way our streets are being lost or given up". That's creating mass hysteria where it's not needed. Our streets are not being lost. It's only a small minority so if you are stopping everyone you're just going to make relations with the public as bad as they were back in the days of the sus law, so what if someone has a criminal record, so what you're saying is they should be harassed for it, stopped whenever you feel like doing it, not left alone to get on with their lives if this is the future to come for all of us... God save us all

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