London’s Police Rethinks Stop and Search Tactics (2023)

Black people in the United Kingdom are now 30 times more likely to be stopped than white people under the exceptional stop and search powers granted by a 1994 law, according to an analysis by the Open Society Justice Initiative and London School of Economics of latest government figures.

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was originally designed to provide exceptional responses to anticipated violence. Section 60 allows police to search any person or vehicle in an authorized area where serious violence is reasonably anticipated. This authorization lasts 24 hours and can be extended by another 24 hours. Although the legislation limits “stop and search” to a specific time and place, it does not require police officers to have any basis of reasonable suspicion for the stop.

The use of the section 60 power has risen hugelysince it was introduced, highlighting a clear case of mission creep: from 7,970 section 60 stop and searches in the period 1997/98, the number of stops had risen by 2009/10 to a staggering 118,112. An exceptional power that was originally intended to combat football hooliganism and unruly late-night 'rave' parties has become a routine policing tool.

Black and Asian communities are the main target of these stops. Our analysis shows that during the past 12 months a black person was 29.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person under section 60, up from 26.6 the previous year. Asian people were 7.6 times more likely to be stopped and searched, up from 6.4 in 2008/09.

Section 60 has been presented by the police as an important tool in the fight against violence and increasing knife crime. Yet, the data shows that the power is ineffective—only 2 percent of section 60 stop and searches lead to an arrest and less than less than 0.5 percent of section 60 searches led to an arrest for possession of a dangerous weapon, five times fewer than a decade ago.

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It is also counterproductive—alienating communities and in particular young people. Stop and search has been identified as playing a motivating role in England's August riots. The independent panel inquiry into the causes of the riots found in its interim report 5 Days in August that stop and search was identified as a major source of discontent with the police; in some instances, these tensions were cited as a motivating factor in the riots and a reason for some of the attacks on the police. Research by the Guardian and the LSE that was partly funded by the Open Society Foundations found that anger at the police was a major cause of the London riots, with 86 percent of rioters citing policing as an important, or very important, factor in causing the disorder.

Mounting anger over the damaging effect of stop and search on black communities have prompted the London Metropolitan Police to announce a scaling back of its use of section 60, which has become a central element of the force’s anti-knife crime strategy. The force's commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, announced that the force will reduce by 50 percent the number of times they authorize an area to be the target of section 60 stops, and would require more intelligence before this power could be deployed in the future.

More generally, police officers would be told to focus less on stopping people for small amounts of cannabis, and instead to focus on those suspected of violent offences or of carrying weapons. Hogan-Howe committed to improve the arrest rate from all stop and searches carried out from 6 percent (at this rate the lowest for an urban force in the UK) to 20 percent overall.

The announcement comes in response to a legal challenges over police use of section 60. Ann Roberts, a 37-year-old special needs assistant, claims it is being used in a racist way against African-Caribbean people. She was stopped and searched last year under section 60, held down by officers on the floor in front of other people, handcuffed and taken to a police station where she was wrongly accused of being a user of class A drugs.

Roberts claims that a disproportionate number of black Londoners are searched, in violation of article 14 of the European convention on human rights, which bans discrimination. In July the High Court agreed she could bring a full legal challenge to section 60.

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Section 60 is analogous to Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which also allowed officers to search individuals in a defined area without reasonable suspicion. Section 44 was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights in January 2010. The Court found that there was a clear risk of arbitrariness in granting such broad discretion to police offices. They ruled that continued use of these powers would interfere with the right to private life, leading to humiliation and embarrassment. The court was especially concerned about the impact of these powers on ethnic minorities, especially the black and Asian communities.

The Met’s decision to scale back stops and the Roberts' legal challenge both hold lessons for other European countries that grant police the power to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion. In the Netherlands, “preventative searches” allow searches to take place in designated areas without reasonable suspicion, a tactic recently highlighted as a cause for concern by the national ombudsman. Similarly, in Denmark Section 6 of the Police Activities Act enables the police to establish so called “stop and search zones” in public areas, within which the police can stop any persons to search for weapons. The abuse of these searches were one of the factors in the riots that took place in Copenhagen in 2008 and 2009.

We believe there are not sufficient safeguards in place for the use of section 60 to ensure that the interference with individuals' personal integrity and liberty that such searches entail is proportionate and in accordance with the law. We hope the Home Secretary, Theresa May, will pre-empt the legal challenge and move to amend the law on section 60, increasing safeguards and strict criteria, including judicial authorization, before the power can be mobilized. Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Police’s announcement did not mention any new measures to tackle the problem of racial disproportionality.

But we must still welcome Hogan-Howe’s announcement. It is highly symbolic to have a senior police officer publicly recognize that there is a problem, and commit to change. We will have to wait to see if change does come. In the meantime, we urge the Home Secretary and other police forces around Europe to recognize that un-curtailed stop and search powers risk damaging both communities and effective policing.

London’s Police Rethinks Stop and Search Tactics (1)

Rebekah Delsol

Until November 2021, Rebekah Delsol was a senior team manager at the Open Society Justice Initiative.


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What is the stop and search success rate in London? ›

These data include searches under both section 1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act ( PACE ) and section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. In 71% of stop and searches the outcome was recorded as needing 'No further action'.

Can you refuse a strip search UK? ›

Can you refuse to be strip-searched? If the police have lawful grounds for the search, you do not have the right to refuse. If you try to refuse a lawful strip search, officers can use force where necessary to carry out the search.

When was stop and search stopped in London? ›

the use of stop and search powers under section 60 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Can police do random stops UK? ›

The police can stop a vehicle for any reason. If they ask you to stop, you should always pull over when it's safe to do so. You're breaking the law if you do not stop.

Is crime rate increasing in London? ›

Over the longer period the trend is similar. Since 2016, the number of police recorded theft offences (without force or threat) per person has increased by 23% in London, compared to a rise of 7% in England more widely, accounting for much of the recorded increase in crime in the capital.

What percentage of murders get solved UK? ›

In the three years from the year ending March 2019 to the year ending March 2021, 81% of suspects indicted for homicide, where we have information on a court outcome, were found guilty of homicide, 13% were acquitted, and 4% were convicted of a lesser offence (Appendix table 25).

Can a male officer search a female UK? ›

There is no law that prohibits male officers to search women during a stop and search where just the outer clothing e.g. coat, jacket, gloves and shoes, are being removed. It is however good practice for an officer of the same sex to be called to conduct the search and many police forces have a policy saying so.

Can police enter your house without permission UK? ›

In general the police do not have the right to enter a person's house or other private premises without their permission. However, they can enter without a warrant: when in close pursuit of someone the police believe has committed, or attempted to commit, a serious crime, or. to sort out a disturbance, or.

What are the 4 types of body searches? ›

They are: (1) inmate frisk searches, (2) inmate strip and visual body cavity searches, (3) misdemeanant temporary surrender strip and visual body cavity searches, (4) inmate manual body cavity search, and (5) non-inmate searches.

Does London have stop and search? ›

Total number of stop and searches carried out by City of London Police in the months between August 2022 and January 2023. Of the 1,065 stop and searches conducted between August 2022 and January 2023, 263 (24.69%) had a police outcome, and 802 (75.31%) had no further action taken.

Does City of London Police still exist? ›

Because of the City's role as a world financial centre, the City of London Police has developed a great deal of expertise in dealing with fraud and "is the acknowledged lead force within the UK for economic crime investigation." The Economic Crime Directorate includes: Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU)

Why does stop and search not work? ›

There is little evidence to suggest that stop and search provides an effective deterrent to offending. Stop and search is more effective at detection but still most searches result in officers finding nothing.

Can you refuse to talk to the police in the UK? ›

You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention something when questioned that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. “ You will also have the right to legal advice, which we would recommend that you take.

Can you ignore the police UK? ›

The police can't force you to stay. The police can't arrest you if you don't answer or if you walk away unless they believe you are acting antisocially. More on this is below.

Is it illegal to swear at someone UK? ›

1. These offences contrary to the Public Order Act 1986 relate to threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or display of visible representations, which: Are likely to cause fear of, or to provoke, immediate violence: section 4; Intentionally cause harassment, alarm or distress: section 4A; or.

Where do most stabbings occur in London? ›

WHICH LONDON BOROUGH HAS THE MOST STABBINGS? London is safe for a living but still, there are some places that are not at all safe for residents, crimes are enhancing day by day in London, Southwark and Lambeth have become the highest in gun and knife crimes.

What is the most violent borough in London? ›

With an overall total of 51,383 crimes reported in 2021 or 203.6 crimes per 1000 people, Westminster is the clear frontrunner on our list of the most dangerous boroughs in London.

What is the biggest crime in London? ›

Greater London Crime Statistics. The overall crime rate in London in 2022 was 95 crimes per 1,000 people, and the most common crimes were violence and sexual offences, which happened to roughly every 28 out of 1,000 residents.

How many stabbings in London go unsolved? ›

New figures show 350 killings have gone unsolved in London in the past two decades, including cases in which victims have been shot, stabbed, strangled and drowned.

How many stabbings in London this year? ›

Of those deaths, 14 were teenagers, down from 30 the previous year. Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said each death was "one too many", as the force vowed to tackle violence affecting youngsters. Of the 109 homicides in 2022, nine of those were shootings, while 69 were fatal stabbings.

Can I refuse to give my name to a police officer UK? ›

You DO NOT have to give your name and address unless the officer points out an offence he / she suspects you have committed. However, not providing your details may lead to you being detained for longer. 6. Your search is recorded on body-worn video, which is retained for 30 days.

Do police men in England carry guns? ›

In the United Kingdom police firearm policy varies by constituent countries. In Northern Ireland, all police officers carry firearms whereas in the rest of the United Kingdom, firearms are carried only by specially-trained firearms officers. The arming of police in Great Britain is a much debated topic.

Does a British police officer have to identify himself? ›

It may also result in complaints from members of the public. Police officers in plain-clothes are required to identify themselves and produce their warrant card when they are performing their police duties and exercising their police powers.

Who pays if police break your door down? ›

If the police raid your house lawfully and the force used was reasonable, proportionate and necessary to gain entry, then you – as the occupier of the property – are responsible for any repair bills. This includes repairs to the door.

What do police see when they run your name UK? ›

Standard DBS – current convictions and cautions, and any spent convictions thought to be relevant. Enhanced DBS – current convictions and cautions, spent convictions which are thought to be relevant, and any other intelligence held on the PNC which s thought to be relevant too.

Who pays to fix your door if police break down UK? ›

Where entry to premises has been forced under a warrant, the Met will generally pay for the emergency boarding up to secure the premises. The Met will not pay for the permanent repairs. Where forced entry is made to an incorrect address under a warrant, the Met will pay for the boarding up.

What is a female strip search? ›

A strip search involves the removal of anything more than outer clothing. It can only take place at a police station or at a designated police area such as a police tent. A strip search must be done outside of public view, and somewhere that officers or anyone else of the opposite sex cannot see.

What is a level B rub down search? ›

A 'level B rub down search' is a search of an individual conducted by a single officer running their open hands over the individual's clothing. Footwear will not be removed, and no inspection of the hair, ears, nose and mouth takes place. Policy and authority.

Can police make you squat and cough? ›

No. Police are not allowed to search your body cavities, except for your mouth. If police ask you to squat and cough, this may be a search of a body cavity. Police can ask you to open your mouth and conduct a visual inspection.

Are City of London Police Different? ›

The City of London Police is a totally different force to the Metropolitan Police and has the responsibility of enforcing the law throughout the one square mile of the City of London. Today the resident population of The City of London consists of 8043 people.

Are the City of London police different from the Met? ›

The main geographical area of responsibilities of the Metropolitan Police District consists of the 32 London boroughs, but does not include the City of London proper – that is, the central financial district also known as the "Square Mile" – which is policed by a separate force, the City of London Police.

Can you stop and search in England? ›

You can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds if it has been approved by a senior police officer. This can happen if it is suspected that: serious violence could take place. you're carrying a weapon or have used one.

What is a cop called in London? ›

bobby, slang term for a member of London's Metropolitan Police derived from the name of Sir Robert Peel, who established the force in 1829. Police officers in London are also known as “peelers” for the same reason.

Did London police ever carry guns? ›

Despite the revolver model being known as the Metropolitan Police Model, the guns were only issued at the discretion of the Divisional Officer and only if the constable in question requested to use one during night duty. Most officers, in fact, refused and the majority of officers never used them!

What are cops called in England? ›

In Britain today all policemen are commonly referred to as 'Bobbies'! Originally though, they were known as 'Peelers' in reference to one Sir Robert Peel (1788 – 1850). Today it is hard to believe that Britain in the 18th century did not have a professional police force.

What is the disadvantage of stop and search? ›

Children may be more likely to find the experience of stop and search traumatic. This may have long-term effects on their perceptions of the police. There are also negative implications for individual officers who misuse stop and search powers or use them inappropriately.

What can be removed in a stop and search? ›

Can they remove your clothes? The police may ask you to take off your outer coat, jacket and gloves. Anything more, and they must take you to a police station – or out of public view to somewhere private. If they don't take reasonable steps to comply with these rules, the search may be considered unlawful.

What is Section 60 stop and search? ›

Section 60 allows police to search any person or vehicle in an authorized area where serious violence is reasonably anticipated. This authorization lasts 24 hours and can be extended by another 24 hours.

Can you verbally abuse a police officer UK? ›

Verbal abuse towards police service advisors is an offence and may result in your arrest.

Can you be rude to a police officer UK? ›

What happens if you swear at police UK? There is no specific offence of swearing at a police officer, and in fact it is not a specific crime of swearing in public, only of causing “harassment alarm or distress” under the Act mentioned above.

Can the police press charges even if I don't want to UK? ›

In fact, even if you decide that you do not want to press charges from the outset, or you decide you no longer want to, the Crown prosecutor may still pursue the case.

Can police stop you swearing UK? ›

Swearing is only an offence under the Public Order Act if there is a likelihood of harassment, alarm or distress being caused. Police officers are assumed to be immune to swearing.

Can UK police stop a car for no reason? ›

The police can stop a vehicle for any reason. If they ask you to stop, you should always pull over when it's safe to do so. You're breaking the law if you do not stop.

Can you swear at a police officer? ›

It is not illegal to swear at police.

However, it is always better to try and remain as peaceful as possible during interactions with police.

What words are illegal in the UK? ›

Expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person's colour, race, sex, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, gender reassignment, or sexual orientation is forbidden.

Is shouting at someone assault UK? ›

Shouted/swearing/abusive gestures

Nonetheless, if someone has made a genuine threat against you (this could be considered an assault) or if they have used abuse that you feel was targeted at you because of your race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender, you should report the matter to your local police.

What state can you not curse in? ›

In Virginia, letting an F-bomb fly in public could get you slapped with a misdemeanor and up to a $250 fine. "Profane swearing" has been illegal in the commonwealth since 1792, when the fine was 83 cents. Just what bleepin' words are banned? Well, the state code doesn't say.

How reliable is the British crime Survey? ›

Crime Survey for England and Wales

The CSEW is our most reliable indicator for long-term trends, particularly for the more common types of crime experienced by the general population, as it is unaffected by changes in reporting rates or police activity, and it includes unreported crimes.

How effective are the police in the UK? ›

Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) suggests that around 55% of people think their police force is doing a “good” or “excellent” job. This figure is often known as the confidence level. The confidence level has fallen over the last two years (from around 62% in 2017/18 to 55% in 2019/20).

What percentage of trials end in guilty UK? ›

The conviction rate in England and Wales was 82.7 percent in magistrates courts and 76.5 percent in crown courts, as of the third quarter of 2022. In general, crown courts deal with more serous court cases and requires a jury, while magistrates courts often deal with less serious offences, and require no jury.

Is it legal to stop and search in the UK? ›

Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allows a police officer to stop and search a person without suspicion. These searches are known as Section 60 searches.

What are the disadvantages of the British Crime Survey? ›

CSEW fails to capture victimless crimes such as prostitution and drug use. CSEW is an estimate of the amount of crime in the UK. CSEW relies upon the subjective interpretation of individuals as to whether a crime has been committed.

How realistic is criminal UK? ›

Nope—it's entirely scripted. But although none of the characters are actually based on real people, Kay revealed the inspiration for the series was real-life crime, and he wanted to create “stories that made the police have to face their own morality and explore how they feel, not just what they do for a job.”

Is crime a big problem in the UK? ›

The homicide rate in England and Wales increased 39% from the 38 year low of 0.89 per 100,000 in 2015 to a decade high of 1.23 per 100,000 in 2018. Crime in London was the highest in England and Wales in 2009 (111 per 1000 of the population), followed by Greater Manchester (101 per 1000).

Do British police officers use guns? ›

Some of these gun-wielding officers patrol the city in pairs, others are members of crack response teams — units dressed in body-armor, helmets and carrying long rifles — who are called to the scene of violent incidents like these. In most instances, they don't use their weapons.

Do cops in England wear guns? ›

In the United Kingdom police firearm policy varies by constituent countries. In Northern Ireland, all police officers carry firearms whereas in the rest of the United Kingdom, firearms are carried only by specially-trained firearms officers. The arming of police in Great Britain is a much debated topic.

Why are UK police not armed? ›

Why don t police carry guns in the UK? The tradition in the UK is one of "policing by consent", and some officers are deterred from carrying guns by the potential backlash against them in the unlikely event that they injure a bystander (four out of the 14,000 armed incidents each year).

What crime has the highest conviction rate? ›

In 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that among defendants charged with a felony, 68% were convicted (59% of a felony and the remainder of a misdemeanor) with felony conviction rates highest for defendants originally charged with motor vehicle theft (74%), driving-related offenses (73%), murder (70%), ...

Is UK innocent until proven guilty? ›

Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1988 provides citizens in our country the right to a fair and public trial or hearing in relation to both criminal and civil matters. Section 2 of Article 6 states , “Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”.

Why is China's conviction rate so high? ›

The problem is driven by the fact that public prosecutors and public security bodies have the power to discipline judges who acquit defendants, causing China to have one of the highest conviction rates in the world, he said.

Can UK police record you without permission? ›

Under data protection legislation, officers must inform people that they're being filmed and will do so unless the situation means it's not possible. Otherwise you'll know you're being recorded when the camera has flashing red lights in the centre of it. Officers don't have to get your consent to be filmed.


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