IOPC calls for stop and search law change and identifies 18 opportunities for improvement

Published: 20 Apr 2022

We are today calling for action to address the disproportionate use of stop and search on people from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds and its impact on public confidence in policing.

A report published today includes 18 recommendations aimed at improving policing practice so that people from a Black, Asian, or other minority ethnic background are safeguarded from stop and searches that are influenced by stereotyping and bias.

We are looking to improve the way these powers are used by forces in England and Wales.

In year ending March 2021, people from a Black or Black British background people were seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than those from a White ethnic background.

While people from an Asian or Asian British background, or mixed ethnic background, were approximately two and half times more likely to be stopped and searched than those from a white ethnic background.

The findings and recommendations of the report are derived from stop and search data and independent investigations, appeals and reviews that have been undertaken by the IOPC since 2018.

When used correctly, stop and search is a very useful component of the policing toolkit but the recommendations highlight how forces need to work with communities to better understand legitimate concerns and help build the public confidence that underpins the legitimacy of policing.

From our own work, we have seen the smell of cannabis as the sole grounds given for stop and search, which is not in accordance with authorised police practice. We’ve also seen handcuffs used when other tactics could have de-escalated the situation.

Recommendations made to England and Wales Police forces include:

  • The NPCC and College of Policing work together to develop guidelines on how to safeguard people from a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic background from being stopped and searched because of decision-making based upon assumptions, stereotypes and racial bias, and mitigate the risks of indirect discrimination.
  • The NPCC and College of Policing work together to develop guidelines on how to safeguard people from a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic background from experiencing disproportionate use of force during stops and searches due to stereotypical assumptions and biases affecting the policing response.
  • The NPCC, College of Policing and Home Office consider commissioning research into the trauma caused predominantly to people from a Black, Asian and other minority ethnic background, including children and young people, by the use of stop and search. 
  • The Home Office reviews what constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion for cannabis possession. The review should consider whether smell of cannabis alone provides reasonable grounds for a stop and search and whether any changes are required to PACE Code A to ensure the stop and search tactic is used lawfully.

IOPC lead on discrimination Sal Naseem: “We are concerned about the impact of stop and search on ethnic minority groups, in particular the negative effect it can have on public confidence in policing. It cannot be underestimated how traumatic a stop and search encounter can be on an individual. If carried out insensitively, a person can be left feeling humiliated and victimised.

“The experience can also be the first interaction for some young adults and if it is a negative one, this can have a lasting impact on that person and the trust they put in the police.

“It is time to break the cycle.

“The challenge for police forces is to build bridges with those in communities who feel marginalised so those same people feel confident in coming to police when needed.”

The IOPC consulted extensively with external stakeholders on the learning recommendations included in this report, taking on board the feedback from those involved.

Members of our Youth Panel, academics, Police and Crime Commissioners, HMICFRS, National Black Policing Association, NPCC, COP, the Home Office, members of local independent and community scrutiny groups and independent advisory groups have all reviewed and provided comments to our report to ensure a wide-cross section of communities had a voice.

  • Custody and detention
  • Death and serious injury
  • Discrimination
  • Use of force and armed policing