When it comes to wasting police time, the biggest offenders appear to be...the police. That, at least, appears to be the conclusion of the Home Office. Its official statistics, published today, show that while police stopped over 100,000 individuals last year to "prevent acts of terrorism", there was not a single arrest for a terror offence as a result of these stops.
This perhaps is the final nail in the coffin for the widely criticised section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which gives police forces powers to stop and search individuals – in so-called "designated areas" - to prevent acts of terrorism without the need for reasonable grounds of suspicion. According to today’s report: "In 2009/10, 101,248 stops-and-searches were made under this power.
The report continues: "[This] represents a 60 per cent decrease since 2008/9. Compared with the same quarter of 2008/9, the number of searches carried out in Jan-March 2010 fell by 77 per cent, down to 14,214."
One reason for the decline may be the fact that in July of this year – following a European Court ruling that finally established that the power granted under s44 was too wide and therefore unlawful – the Home Secretary herself required police forces to stop using it.
Previously, the use of s44 was the cause of a long list of high-profile embarrassments for police forces in their efforts to stamp out inconvenient photography. It was also identified by the Head of the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO) Communications Advisory Group, Andy Trotter, as not being particularly helpful in fostering good relations with the public.
Writing on this issue in December 2009, Trotter said: "I would like to see a return to common-sense policing, where officers feel able to talk to the public and have a conversation with them, without the need to record every detail or draw on police powers."
By contrast, s43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which enables a police officer to stop and search someone where that person is reasonably suspected of being a terrorist was used in respect of 1,224 stops-and-searches carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service in 2009/10 under this power.
This represents a 24 per cent decrease since 2008/9 – even though ACPO reacted to the Home Secretary’s jettisoning of s44 by urging police forces to make greater use of s43.
What then of police time-wasting? We asked the two police forces most closely associated with use of s44 - the Met and City of London - whether they accepted this as evidence that officers had been wasting their own time. So far, no comment - not even from City, who historically have been far more gung ho in their use of s44 powers than other forces. ®