Researchers' work in reforming stop and search procedure praised

Joint research by Edinburgh Napier and University of Dundee contributes to positive report

Date posted

2 March 2017


Last updated

19 March 2020

The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) has praised Police Scotland’s work with researchers for the part it played in helping reform stop and search across the country.

The inspectoral body’s phase two report has acknowledged significant improvements made by Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to stop and search procedures, with all 23 recommendations from its initial report in March 2015 found to have been successfully implemented.

Within the report, HMICS also highlighted the role that academic research played in helping the force identify good practice of stop and search in a local context.

In 2015, researchers from the University of Dundee and Edinburgh Napier University evaluated a stop and search scheme being piloted by the Fife Division of Police Scotland.

Funded by The Scottish Institute for Policing Research and the Scottish Police Authority, Dr Megan O’Neill, from Dundee, and Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Liz Aston led a team investigating the impact of a new approach to stop and search which aimed to improve levels of approval amongst the public by better informing them of the process, the reasons why searches are being carried out, and the rights of the individual.

Despite the findings praising Fife Division for their efforts to make stop and search more effective and address public concerns about the measures, a number of recommendations were also made, including the ultimate end to consensual stop and searches.

HMICS’ initial phase one report also recommended a step change from consensual searches, with the new report finding that 96% of stop and searches are now made using legislative powers. The recording of seizures and the publication of stop and search data online are also among the positive steps taken.

It’s a really good example of how worthwhile academic research can land in a practical situation and make a real difference to the way the police conducts its business.

Derek Penman QPM

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman has praised the role academic research played in contributing to the positive change.

Speaking at a recent Edinburgh Napier School of Applied Sciences event, he said: “I think the research has been highly influential. It was taken by Police Scotland and has been used to inform the policy, not only for Police Scotland but it has actually been taken forward to inform the policy from the independent advisory group on stop search and will see its way into the code of practice.

“I welcome the fact that Police Scotland and the SPA have commissioned research and worked with academics to identify good practice and inform the use of stop and search in a local context. It’s a really good example of how worthwhile academic research can land in a practical situation and make a real difference to the way police conduct its business.”

Dr Liz Aston, senior lecturer in Criminology at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “We welcome the changes that have been made by Police Scotland on stop and search in response to the findings of our evaluation of the Fife Pilot, and the recommendations of various scrutiny bodies. Of particular note is the huge reduction in the use of stop and search and the move away from ‘consensual’ searches. It is refreshing to hear Police Scotland acknowledge the fact that stopping and searching people is a significant intrusion on personal liberty and privacy.

“Through working with Police Scotland’s Research and Evaluation Operational Review Group on stop and search we aim to ensure that further research is conducted on this important topic and the concerns about these changes, which have been expressed by officers and the Scottish Police Federation, are explored.”

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