This article investigates the development of modern stop and search powers in post-war Britain—namely, the legal rules that allow police officers to stop and search a person based on reasonable suspicion, and as an adjunct to a specific offence. The article traces the rise of a preventative outlook premised on police power, rather than police presence, and demonstrates how, against a backdrop of political consensus and stability, the preventative principle gradually acquired the status of taken-for-granted knowledge, albeit uneasily at first. The analysis shows how the balance between crime control and individual freedom quietly shifted in favour of the state, in a move that would carry significant implications for policing in the decades ahead. The article concludes that whilst noisy politics and policies rightly attract academic attention, it is arguably in the quieter periods that more deep-seated and enduring transformations are likely to take place.
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