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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Stop and search targeted

September 09 2015
Stopped and searched. © Tony Austin from Creative commons Stopped and searched. © Tony Austin from Creative commons
Police will have to be more open under new government plans.

Police across the UK will have to be more open about who they stop and search under new government plans.

Forty police forces will now need to provide monthly figures on the people they stop and search, with details including age and ethnicity, along with the time of day and location.

Home Secretary Theresa May told the Daily Express: “Stop and search is undoubtedly an important police power.

“But when it is misused, it can be counter-productive and an enormous waste of police time. If it is not operated in a targeted and proportionate way, and if innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public.”

The stop and search law is only meant to be used if the police have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is carrying an illegal possession such as drugs, a weapon or stolen property. The grounds for suspicion has to be related to the individual who has been stopped. However, many believe it is frequently misused.

Since the stop and search law was first introduced in 1994, there has been a backlash from the public about the way the powers target some sections of society more than others; black people are still more likely to stopped and searched according to the police’s own data, despite attempts to address this issue.

Homeless people are also thought to be more likely to be searched by police, though as data on this is not collected, evidence is only anecdotal. Critics say this unfairly criminalises homeless people.

Recently the Pavement reported on concerns that homeless people in Scotland are proportionally stopped and searched with no just cause. Forces north of the border have been criticised for stop and search figures that are far higher than in London.

The Marie Trust in Glasgow was the first charity to complained that both service users and volunteers had been targeted by police officers outside its centre.

Sandy Farquharson, director of The Marie Trust, said: “It was heavy-handed, unreasonable and excessive. We couldn’t see any reason for it.”

Simon Community Scotland also complained that street workers had voiced similar concerns.

Lorraine McGrath, chief executive of Simon Community Scotland, said “Homeless people are stigmatised and there is an expectation that if searched they will be found with an illegal substance.

“The irony is that homeless people are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.”


Stop and search: your rights

The police have powers to stop and question you at any time. However, they must not misuse this power. A police officer must be in uniform, or show you their warrant card.

They may ask you:

• what you’re doing

• why you’re in an area and

• where you’re going.

However, you don’t have to answer any questions the police officer asks you.

A police officer has powers to stop and search you if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect you’re carrying:

• illegal drugs

• a weapon

• stolen property

• something which could be used to commit a crime.

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

• you’re in a specific location.

Before you’re searched, the police officer must tell you:

• their name and station

• what they expect to find, eg drugs

• the reason they want to search you, eg it looks like you’re hiding something

• why they are legally allowed to search you

• that you can have a record of the search or how you can get a copy.