Dundee and Napier researchers to evaluate stop and search pilot

Researchers from the University of Dundee and Edinburgh Napier University are to evaluate a stop and search scheme being piloted by the Fife Division of Police Scotland. 

Dr Megan O’Neill, from Dundee, and Napier’s Dr Liz Aston, both members of the Scottish Institute of Policing Research (SIPR), will lead a team investigating the impact of a new approach to stop and search currently being trialled in Fife. The evaluation is being funded by SIPR and the Scottish Police Authority.

The use of stop and search methods has proved controversial. While police officers claim they are a vital tool for law enforcement and crime prevention, civil liberties groups and other organisations have raised concerns that they unfairly target certain demographics.

The Fife project started in July 2014 and will last until February 2015. It aims to improve levels of approval amongst the public by better informing them of the process, the reasons why searches are being carried out, and the rights of the individual. Researchers will analyse police data on their use of stop and search in two areas of Fife, and will compare that to data from another division of Police Scotland.

Some of the new elements of the pilot include sending letters to the parents of children who have been stopped to make them aware of the event, providing enhanced information leaflets to every person stopped, and increasing opportunities for the public to provide feedback after a search. Officers in Fife are using databases and other intelligence systems to ensure that stop and search is used in a targeted way and consulting with community groups about the process on a regular basis.

Dr O’Neill said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference to policing in Scotland.  Police Scotland has been under intense scrutiny in relation to their use of stop and search in recent months. We will be able to assess whether their planned changes to stop and search will make the police more accountable to the public, is based on improved data and information and if public confidence in policing is thereby enhanced.”

The team will also observe how the police engage in stop and search as well as interview both officers and those people who have been stopped to gauge their views. The local groups that officers consult with will also be asked their opinions about the new approach to stop and search.

Dr Aston said, “Stop and search has been under-researched in Scotland. Our research findings will be of practical application and I am hopeful that they will make an impact in an important area of policing.”

Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan, Police Commander for the Fife Division, said, “We were impressed with the proposal put forward by Drs O’Neill and Aston for this project and are giving the researchers full access to all the information and staff that they need in order to progress  this work.

“Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe and one of a number of operational tactics for doing that is by stopping and searching the right people in the right places for the right reasons. The pilot has been designed to improve our accountability and effectiveness whilst raising awareness within local communities. I welcome the input by Drs O’Neill and Aston in this regard.”

A report on the findings of the evaluation will be produced in early April 2015.

For further details of the pilot evaluation, please contact Dr O’Neill on m.oneill@dundee.ac.uk or 01382 381238.


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