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Stop and Search in the UK

A report for Release, the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, demonstrates that the policing and prosecutions of drug possession offences in England and Wales is unfairly focused on black and minority communities. Mike Shiner and Daniel Bear from the Department of Social Policy worked with the Executive Director of Release to analyse Home Office, Ministry of Justice and national policing statistics, using the 2011 census data.

They looked at rates at the stop and search, arrest, prosecution and sentencing stages, finding that. despite taking fewer illegal drugs than their white peers, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs. Inequalities then continue throughout the criminal justice system: in 2009/10, for example, the Metropolitan Police charged 78 per cent of black people caught in possession of cocaine, compared with 44 per cent of whites.

With only a 7% arrest rate for the half a million stop searches each year, and evidence that using criminal laws to deter drug use does not work, the policy creates significant resentment without making good use of resources. As a policy solution, the researchers propose that drug possession offences be decriminalised.

  • Almost 300 children aged 12 or under were searched by the Metropolitan Police in 2009/10, with no legal requirement for an adult to be present.
  • In the Greater London area black people are charged at 5 times the rate of white people and receive cannabis warnings at 3 times the rate.
  • A cannabis warning takes about 30-60 minutes to issue and process, compared to perhaps 16 hours for shoplifting. Officers needing to reach detection targets are incentivised to focus on stop and search.

Read the report| (PDF)