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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 20:10 GMT
What's the best way to stop and search?
Police search a man
Powers to stop people are being debated
The Flanagan report, due to be published next week, will make recommendations on the stop and search laws.

In an interim report published last year, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief inspector of constabulary in England and Wales, said police were bogged down in red tape and afraid to use their own judgement.

After the 1999 Macpherson report into claims of police racism, officers were required to fill out forms after each time they stopped someone for questioning.

But now Gordon Brown insists the government is "taking action" on police red tape - while Conservative leader David Cameron called for stop and search rules to be relaxed.

Marian FitzGerald, visiting professor of criminology at Kent Crime and Justice Centre, University of Kent, told Radio 4's The World At One why it was important to distinguish between police stopping people - and searching them.

When additionally the police have to ask these young people their name, where they come from, and going down a list of census categories, it is a recipe for increasing the potential for confrontation in those encounters
Marian FitzGerald

"The police have always been required to make a record of anybody that they search using statutory powers," she explained.

"Since the Macpherson inquiry recommended that the police should also make a record every time they stop and speak to somebody and ask them where they're going, the police have been required to do that additionally.

"That has been hugely bureaucratic.

"The Tories seem to be proposing that the police should no longer be required to make a record every time they stop and speak to somebody, which, in my view, is quite sensible."

'Reasonable suspicion'

But, she said, the Conservatives are also talking about increasing the police's power to search people.

"Most searches have been done under a particular Act which requires a police officer to have reasonable grounds for suspicion before they search someone, that they are carrying illegal or prohibited or stolen goods.

"But the Tories seem to be wanting to widen that and to give them power to search anybody without having reasonable suspicion."

Ms FitzGerald said she thought that would be dangerous as few searches produce results.

"Only a very small proportion result in an arrest and a charge but they do disproportionately fall on ethnic minorities and young people and they're deeply resented," she said.

Mr Cameron has said greater use of stop and search is needed to combat gun and knife crime and has urged the prime minister to scrap the "stop and account form", which he says wastes police time.

He also said a Tory government would need to work out whether the rules on "reasonable suspicion" should be scrapped altogether or replaced with the "say-so of an inspector or sergeant or lower", but the Tories say police officers should be given "greater operational discretion" to stop and search - including for offensive weapons.

The BBC has been told that the government plans to give police the power to stop and search people, without giving a reason - for 24-hour limited period in certain areas, where there is reason to believe serious crime is being committed.

The Tories have suggested allowing up to six hours in similar situations - with the option to extend to 48 hours if authorised by a senior police officer.

'Low key'

Ms FitzGerald said it was better when a police stop was "kept low key" and expressed hope that the form-filling criticised by Sir Ronnie Flanagan's interim report would be reduced.

"When additionally the police have to ask these young people their name, where they come from, and going down a list of census categories, it is a recipe for increasing the potential for confrontation in those encounters."

She added: "If every time the police stop and speak to, say, a group of kids, they just give them a note saying 'You were stopped and spoken to by me at this time' then if those same young people meet another police officer they can show them the note."

She said it would ensure the police did not have to take down details again and reduce the scope for resentment.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Police stopping and searching youths on the street



SEE ALSO
Brown urged to act on stop laws
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Stop-and-search police page live
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Minister supports stop and search
21 Dec 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Politicians in police search row
20 Dec 07 |  Scotland
Stop and search 'not overzealous'
16 Dec 07 |  Scotland

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