Investigate the police powers

This essay aims to investigate the police powers relating to stop and search, and what rights citizens have when they find themselves in such situations. I was given a scenario to help identify issues which could occur relating to stop and search. Frank in the scenario is a 16 year old boy, who was randomly stopped by a police officer and asked to empty his pockets without any explanation or introduction from the police officer. He was later arrested and taken to the police station and immediately interviewed. I would be using the scenario to explain the correct procedure which should be carried out by police officers, when dealing with stop and search.

The police have powers to stop and search members of the public on the suspicion of reasonable grounds, which means reliable evidence. Section 1 of the police and criminal evidence act provides a police officer with the power to stop and search persons and vehicles, if he reasonably suspects that he will find stolen or prohibited articles (being weapons or items used to commit offences of dishonesty or criminal damage). The Police and criminal evidence Act 1984 (PACE) states that the search must be fairly and reasonably carried out, responsibly with respect for those who are been searched without unlawfully discrimination. Previous convictions are not enough reason to stop and search anyone.

Prior to the introduction of PACE, search powers were very vague, but they still existed. General Powers to search people for drugs and firearms were allowed, but to search for stolen goods were only found in local legislation. However the police were seen to have problems with stop and search, specifically with young people; because they are more vulnerable to crime and violence.

In relation to the scenario, frank in entitled to specific rights which are a part of the PACE 1984 Act to provide protection to potential suspects. The police officer should have stated his name, the police station where he is from, and the reason for the search, before asking Frank to empty his pocket; which is stated in Section 2 of the PACE.

The search should also be based on reasonable grounds; which in this case was not. Reasonable suspicion lies at the heart of stop and search; without it, a search is illegal. Reasonable suspicion was expanded in CODE A; which means there must be an object basis, based on facts or information for the suspicion, which was not present in the case of Frank, because the search might be due to his physical appearance or his age. A written record of the search should also have been made after the search; including the basis for reasonable suspicion and the suspect must be provided with a copy, which was not given to Frank.

According to Section 24 of PACE, the police are allowed to arrest individuals, and the reason must be stated, which often times it is connected to a crime, so they are arrested on the suspicion of committing the crime. An arrest able offence according to Section 24 of PACE, includes committing offences such as murder; which carries a fixed life sentence attached to it. Parliament can also issue offences as arrest able, which allows the police to place an arrest when necessary. The police can also place an arrest if there is a reasonable ground, to suspect the individual, not just a personal factor for example appearances, race or previous convictions. Although minor offences do not warrant an arrest, but if the police cannot verify a name or an address, they are allowed to arrest the individual. They can also place an arrest if they believe the individual is a threat to members of the public.

The police also have the power to arrest an individual when they have either breached the peace or have gone against the public order act 1986. Breaching of the peace is a popular old common law offence; which gives power to the police to cause harm to another or to make people panic.

In the scenario, Frank was not told why he was been arrested. The police officer failed to follow the procedure in PACE, because there was no reasonable ground for an offence committed, because there was no evidence of Frank been connected to the burglary that took place. The police officer also failed to make it clear why Frank was arrested which is a part of S28 PACE 1984.

On getting to the police station, Frank was immediately interviewed about a burglary. The police officer failed to read the caution to the suspect (Frank) first before taking him for an interview. The police officer also failed to let Frank inform someone he has been arrested, before interviewing him; which could be seen as negligence on the police officer's part, except if the officer was trying to protect evidence from been hidden, but in this case there was no evidence which we are told about.

According to PACE, before a suspect is arrested, the caution is read out to the suspect, which lets them know anything they say can be held as evidence against them in court. The suspect also has the right to let someone know they have been arrested, except in situations where the police believe it can hold back evidence, where the right can be suspended for up to 36 hours.

Section 56 of PACE states that the suspect is allowed the right to a private consultation with their solicitor; which in the scenario was not offered to Frank. When interviewing a suspect it has to be tape recorded (S60 PACE 1984), in order to prevent miscarriage of justice, which we are not told was done in regards to Frank.

Frank was immediately interviewed, without going through the right procedures with him. While Frank is at the police station, the custody officer is responsible to ensure that the correct procedure of PACE is been observed; which was not done in the scenario. The custody officer is expected to keep a record of vital events as it happens at the station. The time of the suspect's arrival, the time of arrest which the police officer should have recorded are examples of the record expected from the custody officer. The officer has the right to search and ask for any item in the suspect's possession and also confiscate any harmful object for example a weapon. Frank's DNA and finger prints should also have been taken in order to keep on the record; also the general welfare of the suspect should be recorded.

Frank was interviewed for four hours without break. Section 24 CODE C, gives the suspect the right to be interviewed for only two (2) hours without break; and 8 hours worth of sleep at night; which was not recorded by the custody officer in the scenario.

While searching a suspect, Section 54 of PACE allows non-intimate searches; the code of practice allows strip searches, which should be done in private but a permission of a superintendant must be given before it takes place. Intimate searches can also be carried out at the station, but in rare occasions, where the suspect might be thought to have concealed drugs, or are in possession of a weapon that might cause harm. Samples of blood, urine and swabs can also be taken and recorded which are under S62 PACE, but they must be done by a medical staff, not a police officer; and force can be used if the suspect is resisting (S117 PACE). Although in relation to the scenario, we are not told about any searches been made towards Frank.

In conclusion, in relation to Frank, he was fairly treated; which could have been down to his personal appearance, because there was no link between Frank and the burglary. Stop and search powers can be used by the police in better and worse ways. If stop and search are carefully targeted, there would be fewer stops. A well targeted stop is also less likely to alienate the person involved; although there is plenty of evidence to show that stop and search is not been used in the right manner. However it is still necessary to ensure that the selection and treatment of those searched under these powers are based upon objective factors connecting with an incident; and the police also have to help to minimise the embarrassment that a person being searched may experience. For as long as the power of stop and search are in the hands of the police, it can be seen as a long term problem.

References

Books

  • Ashworth, A The criminal process (Oxford university press 2005), 3rd edition.

  • Bland, N Upping the PACE? (Crown copyright 2000), 1st published.

  • Mitchell, B Criminal Justice & sentencing (Oxford university press 2008), 4th edition.