SPA publish Stop and Search Research


Short and long-term impact of the tactic on groups and communities


As part of the SPA’s Stop and Search report (June 2014), recommendation 11 stated that the SPA should commission research into the short and long term impact of the tactic on groups and communities. In March 2015 the SPA commissioned three pieces of research to assist in discharging the specific recommendation. The SPA’s objective was to utilise external and independent studies, researches and mixed methodologies to understand and develop a credible evidence base on the impact of this tactic on communities and specific groups.   
This work has now concluded and a summary of the research commissioned is below and the three documents are attached. 

  • Blake Stevenson: Qualitative study based on fieldwork interviews among stakeholders and members of the public, in a small number of study areas: Glasgow East, Glasgow South, Edinburgh North, Edinburgh South, and Dundee East.  These areas were selected on this basis of having relatively high levels of stop and search activity (based on Police Scotland data) over a sustained period.  The methodology consisted of focus groups and semi-structured interviews.  
  • Academics at the University of Edinburgh (SCCJR) were commissioned to provide the SPA with an analysis of the results associated with a wider research programme called UPYC (Understanding and Preventing Youth Crime).  The UPYC is an international project, and in a UK context, young people in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham and Sheffield are completing questionnaire surveys on a range of crime and policing matters, including stop and search.  Participants are aged 12-15 years, and the Scottish sample was expected to exceed 1,000.
  • Jointly, with Police Scotland, SPA commissioned SIPR to include a bank of questions on stop and search in the 2015 Social Attitudes Survey, administered by ScotCen.  The Social Attitudes Survey is a national sample of more than 1,500 people across Scotland, and participants will be asked a range of questions on stop and search and how it is used in varying contexts and levels of suspicion. The question bank, however, is broader in the sense that recurring questions have been asked around a range of crime and policing issues, including police reform, extending back to 2013.

The SPA’s Strategy and Performance Team have considered the research and made the following assessment: 

  • Overall the findings are consistent with concerns raised by the public in 2014. 
  • There is support for stop and search (including consensual) among the wider public, however there is an ‘other person’ effect i.e. people say that it’s okay for the police to search others with little reason, but not themselves.
  • Younger people generally have a negative view of stop and search, whether they have been searched or not.
  • Many of those exposed to repeat stop and searches over several years generally have developed very negative feelings towards the police.
  • According to people who have been searched on multiple occasions, the manner/quality of searches has in the past fallen below what would be expected.
  • The significant fall in the volume of searches alongside improvements in the use of the tactic are already making a positive impact 

SPA Key Findings in full.
It is anticipated that this research will help inform current live consultations by the Scottish Government on a draft Code of Practice for Stop and Search and Police Powers to search children and young people for alcohol. Both consultations close on 15 July 2016. 

Responding to the research and the SPA’s assessment of it, John Foley, Chief Executive of the SPA said: 

“This research stems from a recommendation of the SPA’s scrutiny inquiry of 2014 into the long term impact of stop and search on communities and young people in particular. The recommendation was one of a number of actions aimed at improving the targeting, effectiveness and transparency of the use of stop and search tactics by police in Scotland.

“Over the last 18-months we have witnessed a shift and improvement in how stop and searches are recorded and analysed. We have seen an increase in public reporting of stop and search data to improve transparency around the use of the tactic and build public confidence. We have also seen a significant decline in the number of non-statutory stop and searches. Back in 2014 a lack of information and data concluded that it was not clear whether the police use of stop and search was having a negative impact on communities and in particular young people. 

“The SPA’s assessment of the research published today concludes that the findings are consistent with public concerns raised three years ago. The research supports the SPA’s decision to conduct its own inquiry into the policy and practice and make recommendations for improvement was the right one. 

“While there are common findings around younger people and those from poorer areas having a negative view of stop and search the findings also highlight that the changes and improvements Police Scotland has made to their approach and use of this tactic since 2014 have already gone a long way to addressing the concerns identified. 

“Importantly we also see this research as supporting and informing the current Scottish Government consultations on police powers to search young people for alcohol and the development a statutory code for stop and search. We would urge anyone considering these issues to consider this research alongside the SPA’s assessment. 

“The SPA has shared this research with Police Scotland and we will work with them to ensure that it continues to inform improvements in stop and search going forward.”