Stop and search figures plummet after police cut ‘consensual’ searches

Dr Kath Murray

The overall number of police stop and searches in Scotland has decreased by 93 per cent since officers started making dramatically fewer “consensual” searches.

Over 500,000 searches were recorded in Scotland after the formation of Police Scotland.

Retired Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House believed that stop and search effectively deterred people from carrying knives and drugs on the streets.

However, major flaws were uncovered as the system progressed.

Seventy-five per cent of searches made by police in stop and search instances were consensual and non-statutory, meaning there was no legal basis to search said individual.

Furthermore, most stop and searches ended with no unlawful items being discovered.

The number of stop and searches peaked in August 2013 – with 69,883 being recorded, 71 per cent of these were non-statutory.

Numbers made available most recently have shown that, in December 2015, the monthly total stood dramatically lower at 4,573.

While a new Code of Practice is being developed, officers still have the non-statutory policy at their disposal but there is a current presumption against carrying out these consensual searches.

Dr Kath Murray, an academic whose research led to reform of the policy, said: “Following the recent controversy, Police Scotland have made significant progress on stop and search. As well as the reduction in overall numbers, the proportion of non-statutory searches has fallen, and young people are less likely to be targeted. Recording procedures have improved, and the use of stop and search is more transparent and accountable.”

Amnesty International welcomed the large drop in the number of stop and searches and argued that it reflected the previous concerns over “arbitrary and discriminatory” searches.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “Going forward, we hope the police will only use such powers with reasonable suspicion.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “These figures show just how out of control stop and search had become. Industrial scale use of this controversial tactic, including the search of children with no real suspicion that they had committed a crime, was wholly unacceptable.”

Assistant chief constable Mark Williams said: “The service recognises there has been a significant reduction in volume and this comes about as we work through a substantial programme of improvement around our use and recording of stop and search.

“It remains an effective policing tactic for dealing with many issues but stopping and searching members of the public is a significant intrusion into their personal liberty and privacy and we are committed to ensuring all our activity is carried out in a lawful, proportionate, justifiable and accountable manner.

“The improvements we are making will prepare the Service for the introduction of the new Code of Practice in early 2017 when the use of consensual search will cease.”