UK

Stop and search: Police training aims to raise standards

File photo of a police officer searching a man in Liverpool Image copyright Getty Images

New standards and training for police officers using stop and search are to be rolled out across England and Wales.

It will be the first time national standards have been established since the powers were introduced in 1984.

Police will take an online course and sit an exam which will test when they should use the powers and challenge any "unconscious bias" they might have.

It follows government criticism last year over some police forces' use of the controversial searches.

The plans were prompted by research into the powers by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The College of Policing said it now hopes the training and standards will educate police officers to perform the searches so they are "fair, legal, professional and transparent."

College spokesman Richard Bennett said: "We wish to see no unjustifiable stops.

"We want to say 'this is the training, this is the guidance, this is the standard'... and that may lead to fewer searches being conducted."

Mr Bennett said that the course will also address unconscious bias amongst police officers, and how it might affect their judgement on duty.

"What we are hoping to do is to ensure that officers become aware of their own unconscious biases and that they counteract those biases so that when they make objective decisions about the exercise of a policing power that those biases do not come into play."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Home Office said the number of stop and searches in 2014-15 fell 58% compared to 2011

In 2014, the the home secretary Theresa May said: "Nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time.

"It is unfair, especially to young black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police."

That year all 43 police forces in England and Wales greed to adopt a government code of conduct on the use of their powers to stop and search members of the public.

The new online course and recording standards have been piloted in six force areas by some 1,300 officers.

Of those officers who took part, 80% said the training was either "good or excellent".

But earlier this year some police forces were condemned for failing to implement best practice on stop and search properly.

It will not be possible to tell what effect the training has on individual officers attitudes for some time as the programme will be rolled out in different stages across the country.

Disproportionate searches

According to the Home Office, in the year 2014-15 the total number of stops and searches carried out in England and Wales had fallen by almost two thirds - 58% - since March 2011 after concerns that the powers were being used excessively, especially against ethnic minorities.

Despite fewer being made, people who considered themselves from BME groups were about twice as likely to be stopped by police than those who said they were white, and people who considered themselves black are still four times more likely to be stopped and searched.

Mr Bennett said: "Because people from BME backgrounds very often live in disadvantaged areas they quite often live in high crime areas, and they are disproportionately both victims of crime.

"If policing activity occurs in that area then there is likely to be a degree of disproportionality.

"We can have these arguments until the cows come home, but what we need to do is make sure officers have the guidance and training so that every single stop and search they carry out is fully justified in terms of there being appropriate levels of suspicion."

'Back to basics'

Inspector Garth Stinson, the College of Policing's lead on stop and search, explained that it is hoped any future arguments about the use of stop and search will be resolved through better recording of reasons for searches, and by police using them as a "power not a tactic".

"We're trying to get back to basics - just because you have got information about somebody doesn't mean you should walk with the assumption that you're going to search them," he said.

"Members of the public who are stopped should feel they've been treated with dignity and respect."

Police officers will start taking the course in the next few weeks and it is hoped that all of the roughly 100,000 constables and sergeants will have completed training by the end of 2017.

In Scotland, a consultation on police stop and search powers was launched in March of this year.

More on this story