Police Scotland’s use of stop and search has entered a new dawn following work by Edinburgh Napier.

The subject of many a column inch and government debate, the stop and search procedure has been reformed with non-statutory searches of adults and children now at an end.

The recording of seizures and the publication of data online are also among the changes implemented and Police Scotland has been praised for the improvements it has made to the procedure across the country.

At the heart of this positive change has been the force’s work with academia.

In 2015, in partnership with Dr Megan O’Neill from the University of Dundee, Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Liz Aston evaluated a stop and search scheme being piloted by the Fife Division of Police Scotland.

Funded by The Scottish Institute for Policing Research and Police Scotland, the team investigated the implementation of a new approach to stop and search and assessed the extent to which the desired outcomes of the pilot had been achieved.

Despite the findings praising Fife Division for its efforts to make stop and search more accountable and to address public concerns about the measures, a number of recommendations were made, including the introduction of face-to-face training for police constables, the tracking of individuals who have been previously stopped and searched, alongside the ultimate end to consensual stop and searches.

A big difference

A new report, published in March 2017 by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), acknowledged significant improvements made by Police Scotland, and found that 96 per cent of stop and searches are now being made using legislative powers.

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.”

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

HMICS’ initial phase one report made a total of 23 recommendations in an effort to help shape Police Scotland’s reformation of stop and search. Alongside a step change from consensual searches, it also suggested that the force record each individual search alongside publishing data online to increase both transparency and understanding with the public.

A number of these recommendations dovetailed with that of Dr Aston’s work and HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman has praised the role academic research played in contributing to the positive change.

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 and 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 the police conduct their business.”

Tom McMahon, Director of Strategy and Performance at Scottish Police Authority, said: “The SPA recognises and is grateful for the contribution that the Fife Pilot made to improvements in Stop and Search practice by Police Scotland, and also acknowledges the insights that are being derived through the presence and active participation of Dr O’Neill and Dr Aston at many of the established governance meetings. The SPA looks forward to continuing this closer collaboration with academia.”

Header image courtesy of Ninian Reid on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

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