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Under-regulated and unaccountable? : explaining variation in stop and search rates in Scotland, England and Wales

Lennon, Genevieve and Murray, Kath (2016) Under-regulated and unaccountable? : explaining variation in stop and search rates in Scotland, England and Wales. Policing and Society. ISSN 1477-2728

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From a position of near parity in 2005/6, by 2012/13 recorded search rates in Scotland exceeded those in England/Wales seven times over. This divergence is intriguing given the demands placed on the police, and the legal capacity to deal with these are broadly similar across the two jurisdictions. The aim of this paper is to unpack this variation. Using a comparative casestudy approach, the paper examines the role of structural ‘top-down’ determinants of policing: substantive powers of search, rules and regulations, and scrutiny. Two arguments are presented. First, we argue that the remarkable rise of stop and search in Scotland has been facilitated by weak regulation and safeguards. Second, we argue that divergence between the two jurisdictions can also be attributed to varying levels of political and public scrutiny, caused, in part, by viewing stop and search almost exclusively through the prism of ‘race’. In Scotland, the significance of these factors is made evident by dint of organisational developments within the last decade; by the introduction of a target driven high-volume approach to stop and search in Strathclyde police force circa 1997 onwards; and the national roll-out of this approach following the single service merger in April 2013. The salient point is that the Strathclyde model was not hindered by legal rules and regulations, nor subject to policy and political challenge; rather a high discretion environment enabled a high-volume approach to stop and search to flourish.