Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

Commission helps police be fairer and more efficient in their use of stop and search

Police forces have reduced their unfair use of stop and search powers, while continuing to see a reduction in crime rates, after intervention by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The details of this work are in Stop and Think Again, a new report published by the Commission recently. The report also reveals that the five forces concerned have seen reductions of up to 50 percent in overall usage and a fall for some in the disproportionate use against ethnic minorities. Forces are being fairer and more efficient in their use of stop and search as a result. This followed the Commission's intervention which focused on an intelligence-based use of stop and search powers rather than one based on racial stereotypes.

As a result of the 18-month action programme supervised by the Commission, Dorset Police, Leicestershire Constabulary, Thames Valley Police and the Metropolitan Police Service all saw drops in their disproportionate use of stop and search against black and Asian people. While the West Midlands police did not reduce race disproportionality, it did have the biggest fall in overall use of the power.

The project was initiated by the Commission following the publication in 2010 of its comprehensive review into the use of stop and search powers in England and Wales. This report showed that at that time, nationally, black and Asian people were respectively six and two times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. It also included evidence suggesting that racial stereotyping and discrimination were significant factors behind these figures.

Following publication of the 2010 report, the Commission entered into formal legal agreements with two of the forces which had high levels of disproportionality in their use of stop and search - Leicestershire and Thames Valley - to address this concern and work with them to avoid any breaches of the Equality Act.

This work included:

  • promoting intelligence-led use of stop and search rather than using the power based on hunches or generalisations about groups;
  • training in 'reasonable grounds' and lawful and proportionate use of the power;
  • eliminating the use of performance targets for stop and search;
  • monitoring of race patterns down to local level and individual officers; and
  • a written force policy on stop and search which reflected best practice.

The Commission did not follow this path with the Metropolitan Police and Dorset Police because those forces had decided to implement the national 'Next Steps' best practice programme for stop and search, and the Commission wanted to see the effect on usage and disproportionality without affecting the outcome. Similarly West Midlands Police put forward its own set of actions which the Commission endorsed. In these three cases the Commission closely scrutinised progress.

The success of the Commission's work has created a best practice blueprint with positive measurable results for other forces to follow. The Commission will continue to track the progress of the five forces and engage with them and other forces if necessary.

Mark Hammond, CEO of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Stop and search is a necessary and useful power. If it is used proportionally and intelligently the police can protect the public, reduce crime and disorder and improve relations with black and ethnic minority groups. There is no evidence to suggest that targeting black and Asian people disproportionately reduces crime.'

'This report shows clear evidence that where forces use an approach based on evidence rather than hunches or generalisations, they have not only seen reductions in crimes rates in line with overall trends, but have also increased public confidence in the police.'

'We will be continuing our work with police forces across the country based on this evidence to show them the positive outcomes which can be achieved by respecting human rights and discrimination law.'

For further information please contact the media office on 0161 829 8102, out of hours 07767 272 818.

Notes to editors

  1. The majority of stops and searches in England and Wales are conducted under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE)
  2. Our previous report Stop and Think is available at - Stop and think
  3. Stop and think Again is available at - Stop and think again 
  4. Stop and search rates by ethnic group are calculated from the number of stops and searches divided by the estimated resident population in that ethnic group. These are expressed per 1,000 people aged 10 and over.
  5. Disproportionality ratios refer to the ratios of the stop and search rates for different ethnic groups. These allow comparison of rates for different ethnic groups and are used here to compare black and Asian populations with the white population.
  6. Excess stops and searches in comparison with the white population are calculated from the number of black or Asian stops and searches that would result if their stop and search rates were equal to that of the white population in the same area. The ‘excess’ is obtained by subtracting this figure from the actual number of stops and searches. This is equivalent to the product of the size of the black or Asian population multiplied by the difference between the stop and search rates for the black or Asian and white populations. Excesses will therefore be higher where there are larger black/Asian populations and/or the difference between the black/Asian and white stop and search rates are greater.

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.