The Criminal Justice Process - 'Stop and Search is used discriminatorily by the police'

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 The Criminal Justice Process

‘Stop and Search is used discriminatorily by the police’

  Stop and search powers state that a police officer ‘may detain a person or vehicle for the

purpose of a search.’ Officers also have the power to seize certain property found in the

search.  (Sanders and Young, 2000).  The use of stop and search powers by the police

have found to be highly controversial.  Frequent claims have been made that powers are

used randomly and discriminatorily.  (Lambert, 1986).  One of the major causes of

conflict  and distrust between the police and young people and minority communities, is

the use of  police stop and search powers.  (, 2002).  

  Whether or not a police officer decides to carry out a stop and search is based on their

discretion.  Police officers must have ‘reasonable suspicion’ where an offence is

suspected.  The aim of this term is to discourage police from being discriminative and

indiscriminative when stopping and searching.  The term ‘reasonable suspicion’ attempts

to be half way in between the two models of due process and crime control.  If our

Criminal Justice System adopted a strict due process approach then the police would not

be able to use their powers to stop and search without adequate evidence to prosecute.  At

the other end of the scale, if strict crime control principles were adopted then the police

would be allowed to use force if they had any suspicion.  (Sanders and Young, 2000).    


  The Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure’s report in 1981, recognised that the

public needed some sort of protection from random and discriminatory stops and

searches.  The Royal Commission was unable to state precisely what were acceptable

grounds for ‘reasonable suspicion,’ therefore they proposed that police officers should

inform people why they have searched them and also that a record of all searches should

be made.  These proposals are now contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act

1984  (PACE).  (Willis, 1985).  

  Many studies carried out before the introduction of PACE discovered that police use of

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stop and search powers was biased.  (Sanders, 1997).  Willis studied the Metropolitan

Police in the early 1980’s and discovered that the officers tended to target young males,

especially those who were black.  She also noted other groups who were targeted such as

homosexuals, people with long hair or unconventional dress and those who looked poor

or scruffy.  (Sanders and Young, 2000).  Similarly Smith and Gray  (1985) identified four

characteristics which were highly correlated to the probability of being stopped, these

were: age, sex, ownership or use of ...

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