This essay seeks to critically assess the extent to which police stop and search powers may impact on trust and confidence in the police service with particular reference to the notion of ‘over policing’, this essay will look to consider the remit of police powers in particular. On this basis, this essay looks to provide for a discussion of the problems that have been recognised in this regard and as to how they may be better resolved through the policies that the government have looked to develop. In addition, this essay seeks to focus upon the recognition of stop and search powers.
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In seeking to critically assess the extent to which police stop and search powers may impact on trust and confidence in the police service with particular reference to the notion of ‘over policing’, this essay will look to consider the remit of police powers in particular. With this in mind, it is first necessary to look to present the rights of the police to stop and search and the rights of those that the police choose to stop and search. On this basis, it is then important to seek to consider the problems that a lack of effective regulation has brought about – for example, with regards to discrimination. Therefore, it is also necessary to provide an understanding of what efforts have been made to assist in restoring confidence in the police service in more recent times by looking to establish sanctions for their misdemeanours to look to limit ‘over policing’ by providing the public with a more effective system of redress. Finally, this essay will look to conclude with a summary of the key points derived from this discussion with a view to critically assessing the extent to which police stop and search powers may impact on trust and confidence in the police service with particular reference to the notion of ‘over policing’.
To begin with it is to be appreciated police stop and search powers centre on permitting police officers in England and Wales to search members of the general public within our society for contraband (i.e. drugs, weapons, stole property, evidence relating to acts of terrorism or that relates to any other crime). However, the exercise of such rights by the police in carrying out their activities were not without their problems so that the Police & Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 was enacted with a view to rectifying problems that had been recognised with regards to the powers previously granted to the police that allowed the police to stop, search, and subsequently arrest someone suspected of a crime without the need for a warrant (although it is also to be appreciated that stop search is also permitted under the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act (CJPOA) 1994 at section 60, the Terrorism Act (TA) 2000 at section 44 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 at section 23(2)). Therefore, the use of the law in practice led to accusations of ‘over policing’ and an unfair application of its enforcement against the black community leading to many infamous riots around the country with majority black populations – like that of Brixton – during the early part of the 1980s leading to the drafting and ultimate implementation of the PACE 1984.
To this end Code A of the PACE 1984 provides for the exercising of police stop and search powers and, allied to the use of reasonable force (Police Reform Act 2002 at Schedule 4, paragraph 15), the Code recognises that if a police officer uses stop and search powers then they must inform the person that they have stopped for searching of – (a) the law that is the basis of them stopping and searching that individual; (b) their police number and station; (c) what they are looking for; (d) the reason for the stop (unless it is a terrorist stop under section 44 of the TA 2000 and under the powers granted by section 60 of the CJPOA 1994); (e) the individual’s right to be given a record of the search; and (f) the fact that the individual is considered to be detained for the duration of the stop. The rights of those being searched are, therefore, established as part of sections 2 and 3 of the PACE 1984 and are binding on all forms of stop and search not only those authorised under section 1 of the PACE 1984. To this effect it is not necessary for an individual in a stop and search to give a police officer their name and address in a stop and search. Declining to provide this information is not a valid reason for arrest. In addition, police officers must use their stop and search powers fairly and responsibly without discrimination and if English is not a subject’s first language reasonable steps must be taken to provide information in their first language. Moreover, police officers also need to make sure search time is kept to a minimum and takes place near where the stopping occurs except where it protects their privacy.
However, despite the problems that have arisen in this regard, the limits of New Labour’s penal imagination were first made clear in the development of their policy of ‘zero tolerance’ policing that refers to an American invention regarding the intensive community policing strategies introduced there in the mid-1990s. The recognition of this strategy is founded upon the development of a principle for clamping down on the occurrence of street offences and incivilities in the belief that more serious offences will then be later curtailed (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000). As a result, in Britain it has been recognised that this has also all too commonly translated into intensive policing and operations – (a) against under-age smoking and drinking; (b) dealing with acts of obstruction by street traders; (c) against public urination; (d) to prevent graffiti writing, and (e) for the arrest or moving on of aggressive beggars, prostitutes, pickpockets, fare dodgers, abusive drunks and litter louts amongst others (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000). Moreover, this strategy for the development of police policy has been recognised as being founded upon the ‘non-conservative’ proposition that if climates of disorder are allowed to develop, more serious crime will then serve to follow in the circumstances (Wilson & Kelling, 1982).
In addition both the government and the opposition – along with the most prominent senior police officers – have argued this kind of approach is a success in view of the fact that it serves to reduce the rates of robbery and murder domestically. However, that is not to say that the approach to policing has not been subject to some significant criticism. This is because some significant questions have arisen with regards to the precise reasons for declining crime rates and the efficacy of a ‘zero tolerance strategy’ (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000). Such a view is founded on the fact that some senior police officers have come to argue that a zero-tolerance approach to tackling low-level disorder and incivilities is “narrow, aggressive, and uncompromising and, . . . , targets people rather than addresses the underlying problems” (NACRO, 1997, at p.18). At the same time, however, it is to be appreciated that a zero tolerance approach to policing does nothing to address issues that are related to the racialisation of law and order that has all too often produced high rates of ‘stop-and-search’ and arrests, prosecutions, and the use of custody for Afro-Caribbean youth.
To emphasise the problems this has caused, at the turn of the last decade it was found black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people (Home Office, 1999). As a result, it has been argued the increasing use of ‘stop-and-search’ by the police, whilst the proportion of stops actually leading to arrests for crimes has declined, has indicated the importance of the role of police surveillance of both the excluded and the threatening “figures suggest that stop and search is anything but a useful method of apprehending criminal offenders” (Lea, 2000). However, that is not to say that it may not “have other purposes” in practice because of the fact that “This function . . . is again becoming prominent with the growth of social exclusion and a substantial underclass of people with high rates of poverty, homelessness, school expulsions, etc” (Lea, 2000). Therefore, such an ‘over policing’ has had serious implications, especially against a background of ongoing revelations about police misconduct and abuses of power so the credibility of the police has been seriously undermined by many revelations of miscarriages of justice, as well as cases involving other forms of police misconduct and corruption that need to be remedied (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000).
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By way of illustration, in 1998 the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police acknowledged there may be up to 250 corrupt officers serving in his force – and this figure is unlikely to have changed all that much despite the best efforts of government policy makers (see, for example, the more recent case of two Nottinghamshire police officers convicted after pleading guilty to charges of corruption – BBC News, 2006) – that would seem to suggest an unknown number of criminal investigations may be seriously compromised (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000). As a result, in an effort to combat the problem, a special squad of anti-corruption investigators (including accountants and private surveillance experts) were commissioned with a view to targeting officers believed to be implicated in offences including – (i) the planning and carrying out of armed robberies; (ii) large-scale drug dealing; (iii) threats of violence against the public; and (iv) contract killings. However, despite such efforts, government policy makers failure to provide effective legal mechanisms for dealing with allegations of police abuse, coupled with the large number of successful claims against the police for civil damages or substantial out-of-court settlements have attracted the attention of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture & Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ECPT, 2000). This is because the ECPT Report was extremely critical of the existing system of dealing with police misconduct that has often resulted in police officers not being brought to justice even when victims have been awarded damages. In addition, even in those cases where there is prima facie evidence of the nature and gravity of police abuses, it is rare for criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings to be brought and even rarer for police officers to be convicted of a criminal offence as a result (Carrabine, Lee & South, 2000).
Moreover, in an effort to actively deal with the problems that have arisen in this area, the PRA 2002 established the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that introduced a fully independent system for the investigation of serious complaints (Savage, 2007). This is largely because, previously, dealing with complaints against the police had been dominated by the periodic and incremental enhancement of the ‘independent’ or ‘external’ element in relation to oversight (Smith, 2004). Therefore, the IPCC’s establishment as a mean of redress for the public could be considered to be a logical extension of a process that has been under way for some considerable time (Smith, 2004) and could be considered the next logical stage in the process of enhancing accountability. Thee IPCC’s creation arose from out of the Macpherson Report into the failings of the police regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence that recommended the establishment of an independent body for the investigation of serious complaints against the police particularly amongst ethnic minorities (Macpherson, 1999).
In addition, the PRA 2002 also established within the Home Office the Police Standards Unit (PSU) as a further form of regulation of police activities that was to later to fall within the scope of the National Police Improvement Agency (Hale, Uglow & Heaton, 2005). With this in mind, the PSU sought to regulate the performance of individual police forces and operational command units (Home Office, 2005). Therefore, the PSU has the authority to intervene in the management of poor performing or ‘failing’ police units and identify ‘best practice’ in strategic and operational policing and disseminate such best practice across forces (Savage, 2007. Referred to somewhat revealingly as ‘Knowledge Management’, this role of identifying and spreading best practice as a form of doctrinal dissemination contains an assumption the ‘centre knows best’ when it comes to models and approaches to policing (Home Office, 2005, at p.9).
To conclude, it is clear that police stop and search powers have impacted significantly upon trust and confidence in the police service in view of the notion of ‘over policing’. This is because the problems with police stop and search powers are illustrative of the fact that the police have often over used their powers in looking to regulate the activities of those living within domestic society. Amongst other problems such activities have led to instances of discrimination and accusations of corruption against the police to the detriment of public confidence and trust. Therefore, with a view to resolving such problems the government has looked to adopt significant practical policy changes with a view to then providing redress for the public against apparent acts of ‘over policing’. As has already been discussed as part of this essay, the government has sought to deal with the problems in this regard by developing independent bodies with a view to regulating the activities of the police and holding them accountable for their actions.
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