Innovative counter terrorism initiative sees one in three success rate for stop and search

An innovative police counter terrorism initiative has seen a rise in the effectiveness of stop and search tactics, new research by the University of Leicester reveals. 

Under Project Servator, an initiative launched by the City of London Police in 2014, around one in three (37%) of stop and searches carried out in 2018/19 resulted in a positive outcome, such as weapons or illegal drugs being found or an arrest. This is compared to a national average positive outcome rate of 17% across UK police forces in 2018/19. 

The higher rate of positive outcomes has been attributed to the techniques used by Project Servator officers to determine whether or not someone should be stopped and searched, which involves training officers to identify individuals who may be showing signs that they are planning or preparing to commit a criminal offence.

The report is being launched ahead of the Christmas period, following an initiative to offer free counter terrorism training to the public for the first time. In becoming a CT Citizen, the public can learn how to spot the signs of suspicious behaviour and understand what to do in the event of a major incident. 

The report also provided some insights into how many arrests were made by the forces participating in Project Servator in 2018/19, which averaged around 74 arrests per month across the 16 forces, or around five per force per month. In addition, an average of 201 intelligence reports per month regarding crime, including terrorism, were filed across all 16 forces, or 13 per month per force.

Author of the report, Professor Paul Baines, Professor of Political Marketing in our School of Business, said: "Project Servator represents an innovative approach in the way counter terrorism tactics are deployed by the police. It has had a vital role in helping to keep the public safe by helping to disrupt potential terrorist activity, and encouraging the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

“As the statistics show, the specialist training received by officers has created a step change in the way stop and searches are carried out by those officers – whether it is someone shoplifting in a town centre to an individual who is planning a terrorist attack and carrying out hostile reconnaissance at an iconic site, the tell-tale signs that bring them to the officers’ attention are the same. The success of Project Servator is also highlighted by the growth in the number of forces implementing the strategy, which now numbers 22 across the UK, in addition to the Royal Gibraltar Police in Gibraltar and New South Wales Police Force in Sydney, Australia.” 

City of London Police Assistant Commissioner Alistair Sutherland, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Project Servator, welcomed the research. He said: “Thanks to extensive research, development and testing of Project Servator, we know that the approach is effective in disrupting a range of criminal activity. However, we are not complacent, and are always seeking to improve and develop our tactics to maximise their effectiveness in keeping communities safe. This research highlights a number of areas where we can enhance our capabilities and expand the work we do with vital partners and the public to make it very difficult for would-be terrorists and other criminals to operate effectively.” 

Professor Baines was commissioned by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and Cranfield University, to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of Project Servator deployments and communications between March 2018 – March 2019 within the 16 police forces that were using the approach at the time.

Project Servator was developed by CPNI and set up in 2014 in the City of London in response to the terrorist threat, to reassure the public, encourage reporting of suspicious activity and unattended items, and disrupt terrorist and other criminal activity. The tactics involve the use of highly visible but unpredictable deployments of specially trained officers (both uniformed and plain clothed) in operations to disrupt would-be criminals and terrorists, whilst encouraging vigilance and acting as a deterrent. Its success also relies on the support of businesses and the wider community to create a network of vigilance.