Stop and search report leads to policy change 

Published on 2 February 2020

Police Scotland agreed to change the way it carries out stop and search after research by Megan O'Neill and colleagues

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Stop and search is one of the most contentious areas of police practice and, over the years, has been shown to significantly hamper relations between officers and the community they serve. Megan O’Neill's research means that public perception of this policy may improve in coming years. 

Police Scotland agreed to change the way it carries out stop and search following a series of recommendations made by Megan and colleagues. Their evaluation of a new approach to stop and search piloted by Police Scotland highlighted elements that can be regarded as good practice while also making 19 recommendations for improvement. The force subsequently accepted all recommendations and implemented them into policy. 

One of the key proposals was a cessation of consensual search and a presumption of the use of statutory search powers. As a result, consensual searches are now no longer lawful in Scotland. 

“We were absolutely delighted to see Police Scotland respond to our report in this way. ”

Megan O'Neill

"When we looked at the pilot it was clear there was a real desire amongst individual officers, Fife Division and Police Scotland in general to make stop and search more effective in serving public safety.

"Many of the elements of the pilot can be regarded as good practice, but we also noted several areas for improvement, particularly around consensual search. Those searched continued to complain about ‘random’ searches during the trial. We therefore recommended that Police Scotland used legislative searches only. Only these can truly be targeted at ‘the right people, right place and right time’ thereby enhancing accountability and public confidence, two key aims of the pilot."

Elements introduced as part of the pilot included 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. 

The report also found: 

  • Stop and search should be used as a last resort in contact with the public, especially with young people and vulnerable groups. 
  • The stop and search database should flag up whether the same individuals are being stopped and searched on multiple occasions and alternative interventions used in these instances. 
  • Increased and improved face-to-face training on stop and search should be provided for officers 

Press Office, University of Dundee

Story category Public interest, Research