Is the government serious about reviewing stop and search?

By Dan Silver, director of the Social Action & Research Foundation

The government is undertaking a six-week public consultation in England and Wales on the use of controversial "stop and search" powers, as the Home Secretary Theresa May has said it was "time to get stop and search right".
 
The Police undoubtedly do an extremely difficult job, but in a democratic society the tactics they employ should always be reflected upon. According to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, despite halving in the last three years, Greater Manchester Police are 21 times more likely to stop and search a black person. There have been too many years suffered by many people of an entirely disproportionate criminalisation of non-criminal activity. This is in spite of questionable effectiveness; for example, data reveals that fewer than three per cent of stop and searches lead to arrests, this tactic often serves to increase resentment within particular sections of our community and widen disconnection, while wasting police time.
 
Stop and search has created mistrust, tensions and more often than not, simply is not effective policing. Many people will welcome government action on an issue that has festered for many years, but six-weeks seems a remarkably short consultation period, especially when it is being done over a time which for many people is during the summer holidays. 
 
 
But is a six-week consultation seriously enough to provide the necessary in-depth review that is needed? If better community engagement is an aim of a review, then surely they need to get this better from the start.
 
Now that the government has at last admitted there is a problem, there should be widespread public review of the use of stop and search asking the simple questions: What does an effective stop and search policy look like and what outcomes are expected?
 
Such a review requires a necessary in-depth study and should pay particular focus in gaining evidence from areas and communities that are disproportionately affected by stop and search - for instance ethnic minorities, people from deprived areas and young people. This would provide the necessary reach to ensure that a sufficient range of attitudes and perspectives are included in the process, so that the policy-makers and police can ‘get stop and search right.’
 
The official modes of community engagement often tend to neglect those that would argue that police policy is overly intrusive, especially in deprived areas. But it is by listening to these voices that policing can become more effective. Voluntary and community sector organisations working with these communities are best placed to be able to provide access to people that feel embittered with the police, and let down by government. 
 
But will this review give them the chance?
 
Pic credit: Jason Alden/Rex Features