The aim of this audit and assurance review was to assess the state, efficiency and effectiveness of the processes for recording stop and search activity within Police Scotland and the associated procedures for supervision, audit and governance. We also examined the impact of the performance framework and targets in relation to stop and search activity.
The results of our review aim to provide the public and key stakeholders with an evidence base upon which to make an assessment of the accuracy of stop and search data. It also seeks to provide a strategic overview of stop and search in Scotland and inform the current debate on the future direction of the tactic.
We have included fieldwork with British Transport Police (BTP) in Scotland to enable comparisons with Police Scotland in relation to policy and practice. We also visited the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), to gain an understanding of its approach to stop and search and allow comparisons with Police Scotland.
In order to assess the quality of Police Scotland stop and search data we reviewed available documents such as training notes, memos, briefings and standard operating procedures. We also reviewed the end to end process of data capture from notebooks and electronic personal data assistants (PDAs), the transfer of this information to databases and the extraction of data for reporting. We conducted interviews and focus groups with a range of officers to better understand the relationship between the performance framework and the impact this may have on officer behaviour. We also comment on the extent to which changes to stop and search that are being piloted in Fife Division may have an impact if they were rolled out across Scotland
While our original intention had been to undertake an extensive audit of stop and search records, we were unable to meaningfully progress this due to an absence of definitive guidance and counting rules against which to audit. However, in May 2014, Police Scotland made changes to their stop and search database and a subsequent ICT programming error resulted in 20,087 positive search records having incomplete data. Police Scotland then sought to retrieve this missing information, which allowed us to review the findings of the data retrieval exercise. We provide comment on the validity of the Police Scotland internal audit and have applied our findings to provide an assessment of the reliability of the stop and search data.
In February 2015 we were asked by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to undertake an independent audit of the 356 records held by Police Scotland that relate to searches of children aged 11 or under. We have included the findings of this additional audit within this report.
Police Scotland is currently reviewing stop and search practices and the on-going requirement for consensual search. We acknowledge that Police Scotland has been reviewing stop and search throughout 2014 and that some changes to practice have been tested through the stop and search pilot in Fife. The National Stop and Search Unit (NSSU) was set up in May 2014 and has identified areas for improvement and undertaken internal workshops and external consultation with a range of stakeholders to aid in the development of a future approach to stop and search. Police Scotland recently established a Short Life Working Group and a Tactical Delivery Group with representation from a wide range of interests and has committed to providing an update on the future of stop and search to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice by 31 March 2015. We trust this HMICS review will inform Police Scotland and the members of the Short Life Working Group and assist in setting the future direction of stop and search in Scotland.
In our review, we have suggested an approach that could result in significant reductions in consensual stop and search across Scotland, whilst at the same time building a reliable evidence base to identify any operational practice gaps or vulnerabilities that may require future legislation. We have recommended a general presumption amongst officers that stop and search encounters should be legislative, which combined with improvements in recording practices, training, audit and supervision should give communities across Scotland more confidence in the use of the stop and search and allow a more informed view on the future need for consensual stop and search.
We have also recommended that Police Scotland and the SPA consult with the Scottish Government on the potential development of a statutory Code of Practice for stop and search in Scotland. We believe this would establish clearly understood principles and safeguards for the public and be particularly beneficial in providing clear and transparent guidance to officers.
As a consequence of our review, Police Scotland will be asked to create an improvement plan, so that our recommendations are taken forward and that relevant good practice is disseminated across Scotland to promote continuous improvement. We will monitor progress against this plan and publish our findings as part of our annual reporting process. We acknowledge that some of our recommendations include changes to policy and would expect Police Scotland and the SPA to follow the processes recently agreed in their Joint Agreement on Police Policy Engagement – “Strengthening Police Decision Making, Strengthening Policing by Consent”.
We will be returning to undertake a statistically significant audit, of both positive and negative searches, once Police Scotland has had sufficient opportunity to consider our recommendations and implement improvements to stop and search across Scotland.