Nothing to see here as police searches draw a blank

The use of stop and search powers by Lancashire Police has fallen by more than a fifth.
The use of stop and search powers by Lancashire Police has fallen by more than a fifth.

More than two thirds of suspects stopped and searched by police in Lancashire last year were found to be carrying nothing of interest.

And as national concerns over knife crime have brought stop and search powers back into the spotlight, figures show they were used 23 per cent less often last year in the county.

READ MORE: Funding plea amid rise in violent crime as Lancashire Police at 'breaking point'

Home Office figures show stop and search powers were used 3,043 times by Lancashire Police in 2017.

Of those, just 16 per cent led to an arrest or a summons to court, and in 68 per cent of cases suspects were found to be carrying nothing of interest.

Lancashire Police said all suspects stopped and searched are treated with ‘respect and courtesy’, while officers are trained to use the powers fairly.

Both police and the Home Office stressed the importance of being able to search people suspected of breaking the law.

More than half – 54 per cent –of people stopped were searched on suspicion of drug possession. Just 14 per cent of them were arrested or summonsed to court and one per cent given drugs possession warnings.

Amid a rise in serious violent crime in the county, suspicion of carrying an offensive weapon accounted for 456 searches in 2017.

Just over a fifth of those searched were arrested or summonsed to court.

The 47 searches where someone was suspected of having a firearm led to five people being arrested or charged.

Other potential outcomes from stop and search include the suspect being given a police warning, the issue being resolved on the spot, or, most often, no further action being taken.

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “Stop and search is a useful police power and we do all we can to ensure that our use of that power is consistent, fair and effective.

“Lancashire Constabulary has a culture among officers and staff of treating people with respect and courtesy in all interactions, including stop and search, and we train all staff to use stop and search fairly and appropriately.

“We continue to use both internal and external scrutiny, including our ride along scheme, of our use of stop and search to ensure its use is fair and appropriate.”

Last month, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that stop and search had been ineffective in combating violent crime.

She said: “The truth is, when stop and search was at full throttle, the main thing they found were small quantities of drugs.

“Evidence-based stop and search will always be an important weapon against all types of crime.

“But random stop and search has poisoned relationships between the police and the community, and in the end we need the cooperation of the community to deal with the issues.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We have been clear that stop and search is a vital policing tool, and officers will always have the Government’s full support to use these powers properly.”

Across England and Wales, 38 forces reported details of their stop and search incidents for the whole of 2016 and 2017. Among them, there were 17 per cent fewer stop and searches in 2017.

What is stop and search?

Police have the power to detain and search a person and their vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to suspect they will find:

Drugs
Weapons
Stolen property
Tools that could be used to commit a crime.

The purpose of stop and search laws is to detect and prevent crime, making the county safer.

Reasonable grounds for searching someone may be based on factors including the location, time of day and police intelligence but not simply a hunch or steroetyping.

A person cannot refuse to be searched and officers can use reasonable force to conduct the search.

See stop and search in use

Lancashire Police has signed up to the ‘Best Use of Stop and Search’ scheme.

The voluntary initiative aims to ensure the powers are used in a more targeted way and provide more transparency for the public.

One way this is done is setting up the Ride Along scheme, which lets members of the public observe the police in action while out on patrol.

The Countywide Community Stop and Search Scrutiny Panel was set up to monitor the use of the powers in Lancashire help improve public confidence in the way they are used.