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Gloucestershire stop search 'reactive' not 'targeted', suggests report

Only one per cent of Gloucestershire's stop and searches intelligence led, an internal report has found. Analysts say officers could be obtaining more specific and detailed information.

A report, commissioned by Gloucestershire Constabulary has flagged concerns over how the force uses stop and search.

Written by analysts within the Intelligence, Analysis and Research on stop searches in 2019, it says officers could be obtaining more specific and detailed information. 

Out of 2,377 procedures, only two complaints were received by the Constabulary in 2019 and one of these related to officers from a neighbouring force.

Suspicion of drugs possession was the basis of the majority of stop searches (69 per cent).

The next most common reasons were in relation to possession of a weapon and stolen property (11 per cent).

Black people were seven times more likely to be stopped than a white person (based on the 2011 Census), compared to the national average of ten times more likely.

The basis for using stop and search has been raised as a concern by HMI. Inspector Wendy Williams said forces needed to explain better and improve the basis for its use or stop using the tactic.

But HMI - and chiefs - say its use is vital to stopping knife crime.

The proportion of white and black people stopped on more than one occasion in Gloucestershire was almost the same (white 19 per cent black 18 per cent)

28 per cent resulted in a find, and 78 per cent of these were drugs. 16 per cent led to an arrest.

The majority (65.9 per cent) resulted in no further action.

The findings highlighted that only one per cent of intelligence reports recorded in 2019 were linked to stop searches but over half of all stop searches were linked to an incident report.

“This could suggest that stop searches are used as a tactical/ reactive response rather than a targeted tactic”, the report states. “Data quality checks should be completed, to ascertain whether the quality of the detail being recorded in police intelligence and incident reports is sufficient.”

An analyst told Police Oracle officers could be obtaining more specific and detailed information. 

"For example, if a member of the public calls police and notifies us of a victim or suspect description, it is important that we establish key details which could make a difference between who might be stop searched.

"Vague details offer a less focused approach, although we appreciate that this will not always be possible."

From an intelligence perspective, if information which features in an intelligence report has been obtained through a stop and search or a reported incident, this link could be documented better, they said.

"This would allow us to better determine what factors contribute to who might be stop searched and why."

Gloucestershire, like the national trend, have increased their use of stop and search year on year since 2017  – almost doubling from 1,842 April 2017/March 2018 to 2352 2019/20.

Assistant Chief Constable Rhiannon Kirk said : "Our arrest and find rates may look low in terms of percentages but they are in line with other forces and it's important to remember that a stop and search where we don't find something can be as good a result as when we do find something. It means that person may be exonerated without the need for arrest.

"These reports raise some important questions around disproportionality in the figures and if we are using stop and search as effectively as we can.

"We don't have all the answers yet but I strongly believe we are on the right path.”

In February this year HMICFRS published a report on stop and search, which ACC Kirk says “raises valid points around the use of stop and search in drugs enforcement”.

“The changes we are making to the stop and search form will help us understand if we are using the powers best to address our priorities.

"Many people may not realise that the majority of our stop searches took place after people reported incidents, and that is reassuring to an extent, although the HMICFRS has recommended greater use of intelligence to target serious offending and our own report acknowledges we need to improve data quality in intelligence reports to understand whether they have influenced a stop search."

In response to both its own analysis and the HMICFRS report, the Constabulary will be carrying out further research and taking the following action:

The force said this will build on a number of measures already in place to ensure scrutiny of stop and search including a Stop Search Community Scrutiny Panel, which was set up in 2016 and meet regularly, whose minutes are now being published on the Constabulary website.

The use of bodyworn video by officers during all stop searches has been made force policy - a key HMI recommendation. 

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