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Policing police discretion – the use of BWV in stop and search

This project will look at whether body worn video can improve the transparency around stop and search encounters and consequently improve the quality of the stops themselves.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Sharda Ramdewor
Police region
West Midlands
Collaboration and partnership

West Midlands Police.

Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Body worn video (BWV) has the potential to address many of the persisting concerns around the fair and proportionate use of stop and search powers.

Since their inception, stop and search powers have been controversial. Statistics have repeatedly demonstrated that BAME individuals are stopped at a disproportionately higher rate than their white counterparts.

Academic research has also consistently shown that the quality of stop and search interactions between the public and the police has been poor, with many individuals believing they have been stopped in the absence of reasonable suspicion, and on the basis of stereotypes instead. This also has a negative impact on public confidence and public perceptions of police legitimacy, which could be detrimental to securing the willing cooperation of citizens.

Due to the low visibility nature of stop and search, and limitations with current recording practices, it has been difficult to understand why these encounters are so controversial, or to ‘police’ any potential misuses of police discretion.

The extra visibility provided by BWV can help us understand how stop and search encounters are conducted in practice, providing a crucial insight into police and citizen behaviour and how these interactions unfold.

We will also explore the potential for BWV to strengthen transparency and accountability by providing more in-depth and contextualised records of how ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ are formed and the additional opportunities for scrutiny this facilitates. 

In summary, this is a two-part study focusing on the following.

  1. BWV as a means to an end – using BWV as a tool to provide greater visibility into stop and search encounters 

  2. The ability for BWVs themselves to improve stop and search encounters, particularly through providing greater transparency and accountability.

Research methodology

The research will use a mixed-methods approach including:

  • coding of BWV footage for elements of procedural justice

  • interviewing officers and members of the public to gain a better insight into how, if at all, they consider BWV has changed the nature of stop and search interactions, both in relation to officer behaviour and their own behaviour

  • consideration of stop and search numbers, complaints and stop and search records, since the introduction of BWV

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