Police forces in the North East are using stop-and-search powers more than all other parts of the country outside London, new figures show.
A report published by police watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) warns that use of the powers was becoming a “habitual” practice that was “part and parcel” of officers’ activity on the streets and that more than one in four searches were unlawful.
Among recommendations, HMIC said police chiefs and the professional-standards body, the College of Policing, should write a clear specification of what makes up the effective and fair use of stop and search powers in the authorised professional practice document.
The figures show that in the North East people are more likely to be stopped and searched than in any other part of the country outside London. On average police forces in the region stop 30 people in every 1,000, three times higher than in the East Midlands and the East of England.
The Metropolitan Police carried out the most searches at a rate of 62 per 1,000 people, followed by Cleveland Police with 55 per 1,000 and Northumbria with 29. Durham Constabulary, however, stopped and searched just nine people per 1,000.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said: “The police service in the UK is almost unique in investing its lowest ranking officers with its greatest and most intrusive powers. These include those of stop and search.
“The lawful and proper use of the powers is essential to the maintenance of public confidence and community acceptance of the police, without which the British model of policing by consent cannot function.
“It is therefore crucial that police officers can show, with the greatest transparency, that they use these powers with the utmost lawfulness and integrity at all times.”
Northumbria Police was shown to have the second highest rate of arrest in the country as a result of the searches at 17% compared to the national average of just 9% and hit back at claims the practice was ineffective.
Assistant Chief Constable Greg Vant said: “Northumbria Police has one of the best records for reducing and detecting crime, with decreases recorded over the last near 20 years and a detection rate of over 41%. Stop and search is a valuable tool in preventing and detecting crime and disorder.
“We have the second highest number of arrests following a stop and search in England and Wales at 17%. Success is not only assessed by arrests. Stop and search not only helps us prevent crime, can eliminate people who are not involved in crime and provides visible public reassurance that we are tackling issues that are of real concern to them.
“These powers are not used randomly, we use intelligence to focus on those who are actively committing crime or in areas where there are particular problems.”