Law enforcement officers in England as well as Wales continue to unfairly use stop and search powers against ethnic minority populations, especially Black people, without probable cause. When a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that an individual has weapons or drugs, they have the authority to conduct a stop and search. According to police chiefs, it is an essential weapon in combating crime, and the British government is presently considering laws to expand stop and search powers (Elgot and Pidd, 2021). The issue of unequal treatment is not just about who gets stopped and checked. When black individuals are caught in possession of illegal or stolen materials, such as narcotics, they are handled more severely.
While all racial minorities experience a comparable degree of stop and search detection, black persons are detained at a greater rate than whites and receive relatively considerate out-of-court outcomes (fines) at a far smaller proportion. Between 2010–11 and 2016–17, the rate of drug detentions due to a stop and search decreased by 52% for white persons yet did not decrease by any rate for black individuals (Shiner et al., 2018). According to data provided by the UK government, “a stop and search were conducted on 54 out of every 1,000 Black persons relative to 6 out of 1,000 White individuals in the year ending March 2020” (Race Disparity Unit 2021). These figures explain the increasing concerns that black people are unfairly targeted through stop and search practices.
Save for a narrow consideration of implicit bias in national training, hardly any of the changes explicitly confront the causes contributing to stop and search discrepancies. The reforms’ cornerstone, the much-hailed appropriate use of the stop and search method, emphasised conformity with national rules, never addressing disproportionate racial representation and taking little action to remedy the issue (Quinton and Packham, 2016). The National College of Policing’s stop and search training curriculum was hurried and poorly planned, stressing unconscious prejudice. According to an independent study, there were some moderate beneficial impacts on police’ perceptions and awareness, but minimal improvement in their stop and search tactics and the countrywide implementation of training for all police has not addressed the rise in unjustified inspections and searches (Quinton and Packham, 2016). This is generally consistent with study results indicating that shifts in implicit bias do not always result in behavioural changes (Forscher et al., 2019). These results underscore the need to explore the UK’s controversial stop and search practices to understand why they are ineffective.
Have stop and search reforms intended to address law enforcement’s racial bias proven ineffective and continuously aggravated the problem?
Method of Data Collection and Ethics
Data for the research was collected from various sources including government (for example, the Home Office) and non-government agencies, data available on the Internet, and previous studies on the topic. The researcher narrowed down on data collected within the past 6 years although special consideration was given for crucial data that was collected in the past two decades. This was essential because it helped to highlight changes if any of law enforcement stop and search practices across decades.
Recent reports have suggested an increase in the number of stop and searches by police in the UK. According to the Home Office, the surge in stop and search enforcement is being fueled by an expansion of the Metropolitan Police Service’s (MPS) force area. This represented 32% of the overall rise in England and Wales for the year ending March 2021, while increases in the Merseyside Police Force Area (PFA) represented 11% of the aggregate increase in the former two regions (Home Office, 2021). In this regard, the stop and search data collected mainly focused on England and Wales.
The researcher was well-versed in the ethics of using secondary data. Since the data gathered is publicly accessible on the Internet, subsequent usage and evaluation is implied. However, the study acknowledges the researchers ‘ custody of the source data (Brakewood and Poldrack, 2013). More significantly, the researcher ensured that the data utilized did not include any details that might be utilized to pinpoint individuals or that could be connected to such information.
Method of Data Analysis
Although the difficulties inherent in secondary data analysis are significant, the advantages of this strategy often surpass these drawbacks. Most significantly, since the data has already been gathered, secondary data analysis is faster and less expensive than doing a typical research (Bryman, 2016). With access to the required data, completing the study is as simple as evaluating the data and summing up the findings. Data collection may be time-consuming and resource-intensive. Thus, the ability to omit this phase is a key advantage of secondary data analysis (Walliman, 2015). For content analysis to be successful, data must be organized and evaluated, then reasonable inferences drawn from that data. Accordingly, the data analysis for the research entailed the following five steps:
- Recognizing biases/recording general observations – This was the most crucial step of the investigation. The researcher acknowledged preconceived stereotypes and worked consciously to dispel them. Consequently, it was evident that law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom over-police minority populations. The emphasis, however, was on discovering the empirical data supporting this viewpoint. This was done to avoid the difficulty of discovering precisely what the researcher anticipated to find.
- Reducing and categorizing data into themes – During this phase, the researcher focused on developing categories and subcategories anticipated to expand or explain the gathered data. Content analysis was crucial and the process entailed the classification, labelling, and evaluation of the data on a thematic level. The researcher supplemented the analysis’s findings with behavioral data to get a more complete picture.
- Looking for trends and correlations – The researcher identified the possibility of recurring patterns across data sources at this point. As a result, this phase was utilized to look for similarities and differences.
- Mapping and building themes – a) the researcher constantly mapped all the primary themes b) added further subcategories as required; and c) mapped numerous links. The researcher consulted the literature In order to complete these tasks.
- Developing and testing hypotheses – Using the final data to create and test the hypothesis, and then relating back to the research question, goals, as well as objectives to draw conclusions.
The pattern of people’s observations regarding the stop-and-frisk procedure can be categorized into three main issues:
- Method used to conduct the search;
- Reasons for the search; and
Method Used to Conduct the Search
As predicted, individuals expressed considerable differences in their encounters based on the officer conducting the stop and search. Whereas others were able to explain a search that was performed in a reasonable and helpful way matching the national guidelines, the majority of individuals characterized their experiences unfavorably. The study determined that at least 85 percent of those whom were interviewed in the researchers rated their experience as unfavorable, and in certain locations the proportion was much greater (e.g. over 80 percent in England and Wales) (Derfoufi, 2016). Evidently, individual perceptions relied on the behavior of the police officer executing the stop and search. Some respondents considered some cops to be fair in their treatment of individuals, while others were regarded to be more aggressive, unjust, and power-hungry (Flacks, 2018). Overall, a substantial number of those surveyed had concerns about the procedure.
Some feel they were mistreated, while most were dissatisfied with how the police conducted the stop and search. Individuals used a variety of terms to characterize their stop and search experiences, such as “humiliating,” “embarrassing,” “degrading,” “aggressive,” “intimidating,” and “rude,” among others (Stevenson, 2016). Most of these encounters do not imply an attitude that handles individuals with “dignity and respect” and appear to contradict the obvious directive to perform searches in private or a more discrete setting.
There were quite a few people who were interviewed who believed that even though most of them had terrible encounters with police stop and search, it may be a beneficial thing when done properly. Some argued that it is appropriate when there is a legitimate justification to stop individuals rather than just because of their appearance or clothing. For instance, some said that they “approve of it” or that “if done correctly, it is a nice concept” (Stevenson, 2016). Accordingly, the public are more likely to agree to stop and search if it is done appropriately.
Reasons for the Search
The study aimed to determine whether people had been subjected to legal or non-statutory inspections, and if so, if the reasons for the checks were clearly outlined to the targeted persons. 24 individuals reported or the research deduced from their descriptions that they had been the subject of a legal check. It is possible they had been informed of this by the cops conducting the inspection, or they may have inferred it from what was stated. For instance, one officer used regulations to support the search (Stevenson, 2016). In many cases, police were looking for suspects or matching descriptions when they stopped individuals.
Many individuals were unaware of whether the search had been statutory or non-statutory, often owing to insufficient evidence or information that was challenging to comprehend. Several individuals protested that police officers defended the search by pointing to unknown laws (Flacks, 2018). Consequently, it seemed that the great majority of the searches they reported were not legal and, as such, needed the approval of the individual who was targeted by the stop. Many individuals believed that there was no justification for stop-and-frisk, that it was unjust, and that it diverted police resources away from capturing “the actual criminals” (Derfoufi, 2016). Furthermore, the majority of those interviewed said that they were never offered the choice to decline the search and that they were under the mistaken impression that refusing to cooperate would result in their detention on suspicion of resisting arrest.
Some individuals felt unjustly targeted due to their past actions or felony convictions. If individuals are being targeted in this manner, it is contrary to the directives given to police personnel, which specify unequivocally that awareness of a person’s prior crimes does not provide a valid basis for a search (McConville et al., 2017). These events completely contradict the procedures provided in police officers’ manuals.
Many of the individuals interviewed for some of the studies believed that young adults were harassed far more than in other age categories, and that this was frequently unjustified. Indeed, according to Home Office statistics, “70 percent of stop and searches in the year ending March 2021 were on men aged 15 to 34” (2021). Others speculated that the police shunned pursuing persons of color or ethnic minorities out of worry of being labeled racist. Some, on the other hand, alleged that they were singled out because of their ethnicity or skin color for instance being black (Flacks, 2018). However, there was limited evidence of over-targeting of black people or other ethnic minorities. This tends to indicate that stop and search policies meant to combat the racial prejudice of law enforcement have been successful and have not exacerbated the issue. Nonetheless, UK law enforcement officers should consider the following recommendations to improve stop and search practices:
- A mechanism must be in place to allow leaders and managers to effectively assess and supervise search practices and tackle any problematic patterns.
- Implementing initiatives to guarantee that cops have a greater understanding of how their execution of stop and search privileges affects people from disadvantaged minorities.
- Ensuring that perceptions and prejudices do not influence the decision-making of police while conducting inspections, particularly when employing these powers on persons from minority neighborhoods.
Overall, the research findings do not support the problem of the study. This can be attributed to a number of limitation of the data collected. Primarily, the investigator did not gather the data, and hence had no influence over its contents. As a result, the evaluation may have been restricted or the study topic complicated. Finally, the research variables could have been described or classified differently than the study intended. For instance, alternate ways of categorizing age, race, as well as ethnicity might have been used instead of including all of the most common subgroups.
Brakewood, B. and Poldrack, R.A., (2013). ‘The ethics of secondary data analysis: Considering the application of Belmont principles to the sharing of neuroimaging data,’ Neuroimage, 82, pp.671-676. Web.
Bryman, A., (2016). Social research methods. Oxford university press.
Derfoufi, Z., (2016). Elected Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales on Police-Black and Ethnic Minority Community Relations, with Specific Reference to Stop and Search. Web.
Elgot, J. and Pidd, H. (2021). Policing minister defends changes to stop and search in crime plan. The Guardian. Web.
Flacks, S., (2018). ‘The stop and search of minors: A ‘vital police tool’?’, Criminology & Criminal Justice, 18(3), pp.364-384. Web.
Forscher, P.S., Lai, C.K., Axt, J.R., Ebersole, C.R., Herman, M., Devine, P.G. and Nosek, B.A., (2019). ‘A meta-analysis of procedures to change implicit measures,’ Journal of personality and social psychology, 117(3), p.522. Web.
Home Office. (2021). Police powers and procedures: Stop and search and arrests, England and Wales, year ending 31 March 2021 second edition. GOV.UK. Web.
McConville, M., Sanders, A., & Leng, R. (2017). The case for the prosecution: Police suspects and the construction of criminality. Routledge.
Quinton, P. and Packham, D., (2016). College of Policing stop and search training experiment. London: College of Policing.
Race Disparity Unit (2021) Stop and search data and the effect of geographical differences. GOV.UK. Web.
Shiner, M., Carre, Z., Delsol, R. and Eastwood, N., (2018). The Colour of Injustice:‘Race’, drugs and law enforcement in England and Wales-a briefing paper. StopWatch, Release, London School of Economics. Web.
Stevenson, B (2016) A qualitative study of the impact of stop and search on individuals and communities in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Police Authority. Web.
Walliman, N., 2015. Social research methods: The essentials. Sage.