The Lived Experience of Stop and Search in Scotland: There Are Two Sides to Every Story

Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
The Lived Experience
2019, Vol. 22(4) 416–451
! The Author(s) 2019
of Stop and Search in
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611119849646
Scotland: There Are
Two Sides to
Every Story
Ross Deuchar1
, Johanne Miller1,
and James Densley2
This article presents data emerging from ethnographic research that sought to
explore the extent to which stop and search procedures in Scotland are under-
pinned by a focus on procedural justice and the impact they have on young
people. Data were collected via participant observation of police deployments and
semi-structured interviews with 23 law enforcement officers and 46 young people.
The emerging insights suggested that differential views on and approaches to policing
in different parts of the country were leading to varying experiences of stop and
search and procedural justice. The young people interviewed in the east of the
country had more positive relationships with the police and a stronger belief in
procedural justice. Conversely, the tendency to use stop and search as a deterrent
from crime in the west of Scotland resulted in deteriorated relationships, institu-
tionalization of the use of the tactic, and a perceived lack of procedural justice.
police, young people, stop and search, procedural justice, legitimacy
1School of Media, Culture and Society, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK
2School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University, Brooklyn Park, MN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Ross Deuchar, School of Media, Culture and Society, University of the West of Scotland,
Paisley PA1 2BE, UK.

Deuchar et al.
Policing is in the midst of an intense period of challenge and change. Aggressive
use of police force, at times captured on video and publicized via social media,
has generated civil unrest in cities across the globe. It has also spurred intense
debate concerning the appropriateness of the long-standing ability of police
officers to temporarily detain and search individuals suspected of having com-
mitted, committing, or about to commit a crime (e.g., Delsol & Shiner, 2015;
Weber & Bowling, 2012). Concern about “stop and search” is not new; in the
United Kingdom, the practice has been cited as a catalyst for the 1981 Brixton
disorders (Scarman, 1981), the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Delsol &
Shiner, 2006), and the 2011 U.K. riots (Ariza, 2014). In the United States, the
use of stop and search (better known as “stop, question, and frisk”) has been
confirmed as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court several times, most
notably in Terry v. Ohio (1968), where the Court held that a stop can be
made when an officer has “reasonable suspicion” versus “probable cause.”
(Windmueller, 1991, p. 543). However, in a 2013 landmark ruling, a federal
judge found the tactic—as practiced by the New York City Police
Department—was unconstitutional because Blacks were stopped based on less
objectively founded suspicion than Whites, such as “furtive movements” in
“high crime areas” (see Floyd v. City of New York, 2013, p.8).
Prior research has well scrutinized the effects of investigative stops on crime
(e.g., Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014; Tiratelli, Quinton, & Bradford, 2018;
Weisburd, Wooditch, Weisburd, & Yang, 2016) and the limits of police officers’
practical legal decision-making (e.g., Quinton, 2011; Quinton, Bland, & Miller,
2000; Waddington, Stenson, & Don, 2004). However, the Floyd v. City of New
York (2013) ruling highlights that it is not always the legality of stop and search
per se that is in dispute but rather the way in which stop and search is con-
ducted. Police typically justify the tactic under the rubric of “broken windows”
theory (Kelling & Wilson, 1982), a variation on criminal deterrence (for a
review, see Chalfin & McCrary, 2017), which argues that more serious crime
can be prevented by proactive policing of minor infractions. Yet, the fact that
relatively few stops result in arrest or yield weapons and other contraband
suggests that the relationship between stop and search and crime rates may be
negligible (e.g., Harcourt & Ludwig, 2006). And, if “stop and search is a tool of
social control widely defined, not crime-fighting, narrowly defined” (Tiratelli
et al., 2018, p. 1212), then scholarly attention must shift to “possible collateral
effects of stop and search on the rights and liberties of citizens in the commu-
nities most affected by the policy” (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014, p. 96).
The current study examines the use of stop and search in Scotland, where the
practice has been under increased scrutiny in recent years (e.g., Genevieve &
Murray, 2018), but comparatively little has been written about it versus England
and the United States (cf., McAra & McVie, 2005). This research extends

Police Quarterly 22(4)
existing work on police officer perspectives on stop and search (e.g., Qureshi &
Farrell, 2006) and civilian views on the practice in isolation (e.g., Smith & Gray,
1985), by comparing and contrasting the views of officers conducting the
searches with the views of young people who are subject to them. Based on
qualitative fieldwork and interviews with officers and civilians, we examine the
extent to which officers believe in the tactic and how much stop and search
procedures in Scotland are underpinned by a focus on procedural justice. We
find that differential views on and approaches to policing in different parts of
Scotland lead to variable experiences of stop and search for youth. The capacity
of participating officers to adapt or fully embrace the policy and practice of
procedural justice was much stronger in the east than in the west of Scotland,
and in turn, the young people interviewed in the east of the country had more
positive relationships with police, who, as a result, enjoyed greater trust and
legitimacy. We draw upon these findings to make recommendations for future
police training and academic research.
Literature Review
Stop and Search and Procedural Justice Theory
While intuitively linked, the literatures on procedural justice and stop and search
remain somewhat separate. The authors know of only one study that has explic-
itly examined police stop and search practices through the lens of procedural
justice (Nawaz & Tankebe, 2018). Traditionally, stop and search scholars may
document the unfairness of discriminatory stops but not refer directly to pro-
cedural justice research (e.g., Delsol & Shiner, 2015; Flacks, 2018a, 2018b).
Likewise, procedural justice researchers may examine a range of police practices
in the context of trust and legitimacy, including “order maintenance” policing in
general, but not stop and search in particular (Gau & Brunson, 2010). As such,
the present study attempts to intentionally unite these two complimentary
Disproportionate or discriminatory use of stop and search (e.g., Bowling &
Phillips, 2007; Gelman, Fagan, & Kiss, 2007; Goel, Rao, & Shroff, 2016) and
institutional failures to remedy biased policing or incentivize stop quality (in
terms of “hit rate” and process) over quantity, undermine public trust and con-
fidence in police (Bradford, 2017). Distrust is palpable among people with per-
sonal experience of stop and search and amplified among those who have been
searched multiple times (Jackson, Bradford, Stanko, & Hohl, 2013b). The dis-
proportionate use of stop and search within ethnic minority communities and
among youth active in street life is well documented (for a review, see Bowling &
Phillips, 2007), and instances of frequent, unwelcome police contact have the
potential to lead certain segments of the population to believe that police openly
dislike them (Brunson, 2007). This can create fear and anxiety among those

Deuchar et al.
frequently targeted by stop and search (Geller, Fagan, Tyler, & Link, 2014) and
may even encourage offending through hostile and confrontational encounters
and processes of deviancy amplification and labeling (Bradford, 2015). Taken
together, these outcomes, intended or otherwise, come to undermine police
legitimacy (Tyler, 2004).
Tankebe (2013) argues that lawfulness, distributive fairness, procedural
fairness, and effectiveness are what distinguish a legitimate authority from an
illegitimate one, and there can be serious law-and-order implications if the
public perceive that police are failing to exercise their power or uphold the
law in a legitimate way (Tyler & Huo, 2002). Citizens who view police as
more legitimate exhibit a greater willingness to defer to police authority and
comply with the law (Clayman & Skinns 2012; Jackson et al., 2013a; Reisig,
Wolfe, & Holtfreter, 2011; Wolfe, Nix, Kaminski, & Rojek, 2016). Yet, research
has found that people were less likely to see the police as legitimate if they felt
they had been unfairly or unlawfully stopped by them (Tyler, 2014). The impli-
cation is that police-initiated contacts such as stop and search have a major
impact on perceptions of police fairness (Bradford, Jackson, & Stanko, 2009). In
one study, for example, people who felt their experience was fair (procedural
fairness) and that they received what they perceived they deserved (distributive
fairness) were no more or less likely to trust the police than those who had not
been stopped and searched (Jackson et al., 2013b). When people thought they
had been searched unfairly, however, it had a large, “asymmetrical,” negative
effect on their trust in the...

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