Theresa May announces a six-week public consultation on police stop-and-search powers

The Home Secretary tells the House of Commons that they can be “a waste of police time” and serve to “undermine public confidence in the police”

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The Independent Online

A public consultation has been launched into the police’s use of stop-and-search powers, as it emerged that on average just 9 per cent of the more than one million conducted leads to an arrest.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Theresa May said this ratio was “far too low for comfort”, and that it was time to “get stop and search right” instead of wasting police time and undermining public confidence.

Including the paperwork involved, each search takes an average of 16 minutes, which equates to 312,000 hours a year or the working hours of 145 full-time officers.

The call for a nationwide consultation comes after trials in five police forces of a new “Stop and Think” policy. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that four of the five forces, including the Metropolitan Police, successfully reduced their use without compromising crime reduction.

Mrs May said: "At its best, stop and search is a vital power in the fight against crime. At its worst, it's a waste of police time and serves to undermine public confidence in the police.”

Despite the equalities watchdog’s efforts, and an investigation by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), stop and search continues to be used up to seven times more often on people from black or ethnic minority backgrounds than on people who are white.

“Everybody involved in policing has a duty to ensure nobody is ever stopped just on the basis of their skin colour or ethnicity,” said Mrs May. “The law is clear that in normal circumstances stop and search should only ever be used where there is a reasonable suspicion of criminality and that is how it should be.

“I want to make sure that stop and search is used fairly and in everybody's interest.”

In response to the Home Secretary’s announcement, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said it was vital the consultation should not just be a “paper exercise”.

He pointed out that under Section 60 searches, widely used as a measure to prevent knife crime, black or Asian people are 25 times more likely to be stopped than white people.

Mrs May said she was “tempted” by Mr Vaz’s invitation to go to Leicester with him and “hear from the communities themselves”.