Home > Police Stories > RetiredAndAngry

Stop & Search – A (Not An) Academic’s Opinion
written by RetiredAndAngry on the 12th March 2018 at 16:27

I am not an academic, never been one and hardly likely to become one now. I have, however, considerable experience in Research and Analysis. In the past few days I have been involved in a, sometimes, acrimonious exchange on Twitter with an ex Think Tank academic, on the thorny subject of Stop and Search.

It all started off when I received this Tweet

But: more than half of the fall pre-dates T May's reforms, and the 20% arrest rate target was an MPS initiative under BHH.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 5, 2018

and then

At least part of the imperative for the MPS reforms was the riots, also pressure from @EHRC esp around s60. The 20% arrest rate was an MPS decision – and #stopsearch duly fell until 20% was reached, and has more or less flatlined since.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 5, 2018

Rightly or wrongly I just had to challenge them

Pretty certain a pre-defined 20% Arrest Rate would be unethical, possibly unlawful and certainly encourages corrupt practices

— Alan Wright (@Alanw47) March 5, 2018

Gavin then confirmed his assertions with

I don't know if it's still in place, but am 100% certain it was. Have seen it in both published docs and confirmed with the MPS #stopsearch lead 2 or 3 years ago.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 5, 2018

This exchange continued backwards and forwards over 2 or 3 days, with neither of us conceding that the other might be right. Gavin came up with an extract from some unidentified document that he had found.

Cheekily followed up with

"we expect a 20% arrest rate" could hardly be clearer

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 5, 2018

A further refusal to concede that “we expect…..” may just have a different meaning. The mood of this ‘instruction’ is possibly revealed here

The very first sentence is an indicator re 'targets'. I still maintain that to expect a 20% Arrest Rate is an Anticipation and not an instruction.

— Alan Wright (@Alanw47) March 5, 2018

In the midst of it all I asked Gavin if he had ever spent a week with a Front Line Response Team, his response was

I spent 2 years in an MPS BIU, attending DMMs, TTCGs, SLT meetings etc, but no I've not spent a week on a response team.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 6, 2018

The argument continued backwards and forwards for a couple of days, I won’t bore you you with the actual tweets they are on our timelines if you want them. At some point it included “numbers versus percentages”. Academics love things in percentages, I prefer numbers. A good example of this is Stop and Search in the Met. The number of people stopped and searched has dropped off a cliff face. The percentage of those arrested has increased dramatically. Some Academics claim that as a success. The reality is that a larger percentage of a much smaller number means that about 15,000 fewer people are being arrested in the Met as a result of Stop and Search. Not exactly a huge success.

In an attempt to get a more balanced opinion than my own I posed the subject of the 20% Arrest Rate to 2 Facebook Groups for the Metropolitan Police. Most of the replies I received denied that there was such a policy, a small number remembered the policy but claimed that it was ignored as unethical, some claimed that it was misinterpreted and only ever implemented by a small number of Inspectors at Appraisal time. There was one response however that was quite illuminating and I brought it to Gavin’s attention (anonymised obviously)

Gavin’s response?

Interesting, including the acknowledgement of perverse incentives (not recording -ve stops). Yet it clearly was operationalised/understood as a target, at least in some BOCUs (see prev screenshots). In the broader context – Crimefighters, MOPAC 7 – that perhaps isn't a surprise.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 9, 2018

Having spent 2011 and 2012 embedded in the Met, I think it's naive to think a performance indicator would be interpreted any way other than as a target.

— Gavin Hales (@gmhales) March 9, 2018

My final words

If you wish to think that the Met would countenance such unethical PIs then you're clearly free to do so. I am appalled and surprised that @HMICFRS haven't queried it. I thank you for the debate, I'm done.

— Alan Wright (@Alanw47) March 9, 2018

I have nothing against Gavin as a person, I have never met him, but in this particular exchange he seems to have formed an opinion regarding Stop and Search in the Met and was particularly unreceptive to any differing view. This is not intended as an anti-Gavin post, just expressing a different interpretation of the same document.

However, not all Academics are so insistent that Stop/Search is bad. I have always taken the view that Stop and Search conducted lawfully is a valuable tool and legitimate tactic in the war against Street Crime. Police Officers are fully aware of the requirements for lawfully conducting a Stop/Search under s1 of PACE, and attempting to fulfil an SMT-defined quota is not one of them. I wonder if all Academics are familiar with them.

Finally, I was reminded of the work of another Academic, Dr Marian FitzGerald, basically her recommendations and conclusions can be summed up thus:

Contribution of saearches [sic] to tackling crime:

▪ Searches contribute to the detection and prevention of crime through arrests, and through the intelligence they produce.

▪ The arrest rates tend to be higher for ‘low discretion’ searches, where officers have received information from a third party.

▪ The report claimed that the power has a general impact on crime prevention, demonstrated by independent statistical analysis. However, this important finding was disputed by the independent analyst contracted to carry out the investigation.

Patterns of searches:

▪ Officers target certain individuals who they perceive to be involved in crime locally.

▪ Officers may use the power of stop and search to disrupt groups of young people.

▪ The use of the power is still perceived as a measure of productivity although searches have not been used as a Performance Indicator since 1997.

▪ Most searches were carried out on young men, around half of which did not live in the local area.

Dr FitzGerald’s research was conducted quite some time ago, and is specific to London, but that in itself does not necessarily render it invalid. The two main factors that have changed since then are;

a) Crime Levels have increased

b) Police numbers have increased since the date of the report but are steadily reducing again.

In conclusion it appears that Academics do not all agree with each other, and some are not willing to listen to opposing views to their own, even when presented with supporting ‘evidence’. However I am still perfectly happy to support Stop and Search as a valid tactic, with the strict proviso that it is conducted lawfully. With the recent explosion of knife-related assaults and murders, robberies etc, it has to be remembered that every one of those knives is carried through the streets at some point. How else do we deter this epidemic without Stop and Search? It’s a serious question, I’m open to all suggestions, I just want the killings to end.

Any item of Academia that appears on my Timeline that reduces the opportunities to prevent the killings is not best received.


Whilst I was writing this the following response popped up in one of the Facebook Groups;

Considering S.1 PACE refers to reasonable suspicion I’m surprised that the arrest ratio to “lawful stops” is not higher. How can any organization legislate a specific quota of arrests to stops? So they don’t. In fact with all of the adverse criticism over the years stop and search has been reduced to a trickle……………

 Originally posted at

Similar Stories

Tory conference: Theresa May recognises concerns over police stop and search powers Posted on 03rd October 2013
Drink/Drive vs Stop/Search Posted on 04th September 2018
Stop And Search Posted on 14th May 2014
Knife Crime – A Faux-Academic’s View Posted on 27th March 2018
As Many As You Can! Posted on 29th January 2014