Stop and search, and its impact on crime and communities is one of the most contentious aspects of policing activity worldwide. In 2015, following a major review, the Scottish Parliament passed legislation to regulate the use of stop and search in Scotland, and introduce a new Code of Practice. In practice, the reform ended the widespread use of non-statutory stop and search and put the tactic on an exclusively statutory basis. While aimed at improving proportionality and fairness, the shift to a legalistic model also prompted concerns that falling rates of stop and search would result in a rise in crime, especially violence. This paper examines the consequences of shifting from a deterrent model to a more legalistic model of stop and search. It does so by examining the effectiveness of stop and search as a measure to prevent crime and the degree to which it is used equally across communities with different levels of crime and deprivation.
Types of inequalities
Communities, crime, justice, policing
Drawing on two data sources; stop and search data, and; recorded crime data from June 2015 to December 2019, we test for any short-term and medium-term associations between search activity and recorded crime, we aggregated both datasets at a weekly and monthly level (we excluded daily units, as the observations would be too noisy). To test the relationship between search activity and recorded crime, we applied a fixed effect regression model with lagged variables. Using fixed-effects allows us to control for any unobserved time-invariant heterogeneity that might otherwise impact both crime rates and stop and search rates over the time period. The ‘lagged’ element allows us to test for the effect of prior search on later crime.
We find that the shift away from a volume-based deterrence model, to a legalistic framework for conducting stop and search had little or no measurable impact on crime rates in the four-year period following legal reform. The sharp reduction in searches did however improve the equity of policing practice across Scottish communities, particularly in relation to fairness across areas of differing levels of deprivation, when also taking underlying levels of crime into account.
The change in police practice did however improve the equality of policing practice across Scottish communities. Building on these findings, it is worth considering other areas of policing activity where equality of practice could be improved. These findings are of significant importance to other UK police forces with high rates of stop and search.
For further information contact Professor Susan McVie