A lot has been written in the media regarding the use of police stop and search powers, particularly about the fairness and what is seen by some, as the targeting of certain ethnic groups.
Stop and search powers have always been controversial and when Home secretary, Teresa May placed stringent guidelines on the police which led to an increase in scrutiny.
The worrying rise in violent crime, mainly knife related, led to a call for their increased use, where it was felt that criminals were able to carry weapons without fear that they would be stopped and searched.
The wider use of this power did make a dent in the figures for violent crime, however, the number of arrests following a search is low, where in some cases officer`s actions have been called into question.
You will have read some high-profile cases in the press, where police officer`s actions have been seen critisised, with officers being accused of racial profiling.
The fact remains that there is no better tool to prevent and detect crime other than stop and search, provided it is used lawfully, where it will be supported.
There is a danger that misuse of the power, or officer`s confidence in using it diminishes, that less searches take place, which may erode the progress made against violent crime.
All officers are trained in the use of stop and search. They are also well trained in relation to acting fairly, therefore the use of this power should be lawful and fair in all occasions.
There will be cases where fault will occur; there are many officers patrolling our communities who are acting on intelligence and in dynamic situations. Add to this the risks that officers face where confronting people who they suspect are carrying weapons, decisions need to be made quickly.
There will be occasions where more information may lead to different decisions being made, but what matters is the situation faced at the time, where time is not on the side of the officer. However, providing the correct decisions were made according to the circumstances at the time, then no fault should be found.
Conversely, hasty decisions made in situations where the officer did have time to gather more information may lead to the wrong decision being made. An example may be an officer patrolling an area known for drug dealing where someone seen in the area should not automatically be suspected of wrongdoing.
An officer should not just concentrate on the area, but gather more information about the person, such as any recent intelligence that would link them to drug misuse or supply and questions about their presence in the area, or witness accounts of what they had been seen doing.
In less fast-moving encounters, officers should gather as many facts that are reasonable and base their decisions on this information, making it less likely that errors will occur.
Finding a balance between doing a necessary job and working with all members of a community and building trust is a fine one. Judgements will be made, which are unavoidable in some cases, but quite often these judgements are made without all the facts.
The best way an officer can justify their actions is by making a detailed, written account of why they stopped and searched someone. This is a lawful requirement anyway, where an officer will need to record their reasons on the form that is offered to the person, but where there is limited space to write, a more fuller reason should be made in the officers pocket note book.
There have been written reasons recorded such as `seen in an area known for drug dealing` which is clearly not sufficient and there would need to be more accountability, so the onus on officers to better record their reasons so that their decisions do stand up to scrutiny.
Stop and search remains an excellent tool in the fight against crime and making our communities safe, therefore provided officers act correctly and are transparent, they will receive the support of the communities in which they serve.
Switching to Covid-19, more changes have occurred during the week this week, so to keep updated, please and base their decisions :
PC 1860 Mark Ranola.
Yateley Police Office.