Almost 40% reduction in number of people stopped and searched by police across Suffolk

Superintendent Kim Warner. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Superintendent Kim Warner. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Stop and search powers have been labelled “a blunt tool” when exerted without good intelligence and reasonable grounds, as figures revealed an almost 40% fall in use by police.

Officers last year stopped and searched 969 people on the streets of Suffolk – 38% fewer than during 2016.

The constabulary was among the majority across England and Wales (32 of 37 with figures for both years) to oversee a reduction in stop and search incidents.

Norfolk saw the second highest fall (52%) behind North Yorkshire, where 56% fewer people were stopped and searched.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act standardised the power to stop and search for stolen or prohibited articles in 1984.

Stop and search numbers have fallen for all ethnic groups in the last 10 years – but Home Office figures for 2015/16 showed that black people were almost eight times as likely to be stopped and searched than their white counterparts in Suffolk.

Superintendent Kim Warner said figures had fluctuated over an extended period of time – largely due to central government guidance.

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“Sometimes that steer has been in the direction of high volume stop and search,” he added.

“Arguably, higher volume has resulted in lower success rate in terms of how many stop and searches result in positive seizures. At its highest volume, we were converting in the region of about 5%.

“The current view – and one that I endorse – is that stop and search should be about quality and effectiveness, as opposed to volume.”

The government’s best use of stop and search scheme (BUSS) introduced a number of measures designed to create greater transparency, accountability and community involvement in the use of stop and search powers in 2014.

Suffolk Constabulary is launching its own refreshed training this week, to examine the parameters of reasonable grounds for stop and search – a third of which led to further action last year, including 20% resulting in arrest or court summons, and other potential outcomes including a warning or the issue being resolved on the spot.

In Essex, powers were used 3,023 times last year – 9% less than in 2016.

Two-thirds of people were searched on suspicion of drug possession. Of those, 15% were arrested or summonsed to court and 20% were given warnings.

Suspicion of carrying offensive weapons accounted for 344 searches, with 13% leading to an arrest or court summons

A further 44 suspects were searched for firearms, with seven arrested or charged.

In Norfolk, powers were used 1,265 times, with 12% of searches leading to an arrest or a summons to court.

Supt Warner said: “Stop and search can be a valuable tool if used in an intelligence led way – but where it’s not used in that way, it can be a blunt tool.

“Yes, we have seen a large reduction in volume, but our success rate is proportionately much better.

“Our guidance to officers is to make sure they understand the impact of what they are doing, and to use the power in a way that is intelligence led.

“If we receive a report of someone carrying a knife, I would expect an officer to use stop and search powers if they have reasonable suspicion of that person being in possession of an offensive weapon, and if the intelligence is specifically about an individual.

“An example of where I wouldn’t expect them to use stop and search would be when interacting with a large group of individuals and using the power based on the smell of cannabis. We know the harm that can be caused if nothing is found can be really damaging.

“It can’t be used just in the hope that something might turn up. Blanket use is ineffective. We know that because our success rate was a lot lower when the power was used much more frequently.

“Certain communities feel disproportionately affected by stop and search.

“We have to maintain the trust of our community – where we’re fortunate to have relatively low instances of violence and weapons related crime.

“We have never had a high rate of complaints about stop and search. We have a tried and tested relationship with the ISCRE (Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality) Stop and Search Reference Group, which scrutinises stop and search on a data basis, and individually.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We have been clear that stop and search is a vital policing tool, and officers will always have the government’s full support to use these powers properly.”

•Police can stop you at any time – they can search you depending on the situation.

A police community support officer must be in uniform when they stop and question you. If an officer is not in uniform, they must show you a warrant card.

An officer might stop you to ask your name, what you’re doing, or where you’re going.

If you don’t answer, and there’s no reason to suspect you, it can’t be used as a reason for a search or arrest.

A police officer has powers to stop and search if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying drugs, a weapon, stolen property, or something which could be used for a crime.

You can be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds only if approved by a senior police officer and if suspected that serious violence could take place, you’re carrying a weapon or have used one, or you’re in a specific location or area.

Being searched doesn’t mean you’re being arrested.