Section 60 Stop and Search: How Police Forces Perform in Action

As Priti Patel lifts the restrictions on the controversial Section 60 stop and search powers, our analysis shows they are 13 times more likely to be used on black people

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§ 60 control and search: police officers are to be given more powers in the controversial “suspectless” controls

Government plans to strengthen police stop and search powers could exacerbate community divisions, activists warn after an analysis found blacks were 13 times more likely to be affected by the measures than whites.

Home Secretary Priti Patel on Monday (16 May) announced a lifting of Section 60 stop and search restrictions in England and Wales. Section 60 powers allow officers to search people without good cause or suspected wrongdoing in areas where they suspect violence.

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Officers can now self-delegate powers for longer periods of time, and more junior officers can green-light their deployment.

Control and search powers are controversial because of concerns that ethnic minorities are being disproportionately targeted.

But how often do police use them, which groups are targeted, and how do different police forces fare?

How often are Section 60 searches performed and who is under attack?

Analysis of the latest data from the NationalWorld Department of the Interior found blacks were 13 times more likely to be the subject of Section 60 searches in the year ending March 2021.

During that time, 21 out of 44 armed forces in England and Wales used the powers a total of 9,230 times.

Whites were stopped 3,272 times, blacks 1,750 times, Asians 973 times, and mixed-race people 356 times (the remainder were either car searches or ethnicity unknown or “other”).

However, the population of England and Wales is predominantly white and people from minority ethnic groups were heavily over-represented in searches.

There were 87 searches per 100,000 black people — 13 times the rate for whites of seven per 100,000. The rate for Asians was 21 per 100,000 and for people of mixed race it was 35.

The gap between black and white groups was twice as wide for Section 60 searches as for stops and searches in general, including those conducted to pursue drugs or stolen property.

For Stop and Search overall, there were 4,860 per 100,000 blacks, about six and a half times the rate for whites, which was 720 per 100,000.

The analysis uses Office for National Statistics population estimates for 2016, the most recent year with breakdowns by ethnicity for local areas.

The Home Office said restrictions on Section 60 powers in 2014 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May saw officials lose confidence in its application.

While the number of searches last year (during the pandemic) fell by 49% compared to the year to March 2020, police still conducted almost 2.5 times the number of searches compared to the year to March 2014 when there were 3,816 was.

What are the results of Section 60 stops and searches?

NationalWorld’s analysis found no difference in the likelihood of officers finding prohibited items on blacks or whites after a Section 60 stop.

Nothing was found in 8,182 of 9,230 searches (88.7%). Nothing was found in blacks in 87.4% of cases, compared to 87.3% in whites.

However, there were 132 instances where a search found nothing on a person or in a vehicle but they were arrested anyway. Almost half (44%) were Blacks of known ethnicity. WHY IS THIS

Of 1,048 cases in which officers found a prohibited item, nearly nine out of 10 were not a weapon or other item linked to the original reason for the search – the expectation of violence.

How are the police doing?

There is wide variation in the frequency with which police forces use stop and search, with the majority of forces using no Section 60 powers at all in 2020-21.

Merseyside Police were the most likely to use Section 60 powers in England and Wales, with 64 searches per 100,000 population, more than four times the national rate of four per 100,000 (based on 2020 ONS population estimates, the latest figures with no breakdown ethnicity). .

Closely followed by London’s Metropolitan Police at 60 per 100,000, then Thames Valley (which includes Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and other Home Counties areas) at 42.

Merseyside also had the highest rate of black stops at 380 per 100,000 people (based on 2016 population estimates), nine times the rate for whites.

Looking at Stop and Search as a whole, the Met had the highest rate at 3,523 per 100,000 people, followed by Merseyside at 3,404 and Essex at 1,403. This ruled out the City of London Police, where a small population skews the numbers.

The Met had the highest rate for blacks at 6,921 per 100,000 (3.5 times the rate for whites).

This excludes Dyfed-Powys and North Wales, whose black population is shown as 0 as ONS figures have been rounded to the nearest thousand. Both may have had a higher rate than the Met.

What about other types of stops and searches?

Police forces conducted an additional 706,757 searches under other powers when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual is carrying drugs, a weapon, stolen goods or other prohibited items. These are referred to as Section 1 searches.

Only one in four (25%) were aware the officer had found something.

Police searched for drugs most often – 68% of cases were conducted for these reasons. This was followed by offensive weapons (12%) and then stolen property (8%).

What was the reaction to the Priti Patel announcement?

Restrictions on Section 60 powers were introduced by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014.

Human rights organization Liberty said Priti Patel’s decision to overturn it will “exacerbate existing divisions between police and communities at a time when public trust in the police is at a serious low”.

Sam Grant, the charity’s head of policy and campaigns, continued: “We all want to feel safe in our communities, but police have shown time and time again that they don’t use stop and search fairly or proportionately so it doesn’t make sense to give them even more power not how we get there.

“Not only are Section 60 stops ineffective in detecting and reducing knife crime, they disproportionately affect people of color, especially black people.

“Instead of giving the police ever-increasing powers, the government should remove powers of control and search without suspicion, such as Section 60.

“We need community-led interventions through investment in health, education, housing and social care – and for those in power to work with communities to develop policies that protect us all and have human rights at their core.”

Liberty and activist group StopWatch launched a legal action against Ms Patel when she first announced the plans last year, arguing that the government’s equality impact assessment was “not up to date”.

Liberty said it hasn’t seen a new rating yet.

What does the Interior Ministry say?

In its announcement, the Home Office said the increased police powers will help prevent knife crime and tackle serious violence.

It said the restrictions in Section 60 “limited when officers could use vital power and reduced their confidence in the operation” and that removing them “will give officers the full operational flexibility and confidence they need to to use the tool and help clear the streets full of dangerous weapons and save lives”.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on ethnic differences. Section 60 Stop and Search: How Police Forces Perform in Action


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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