Scottish stop and search rate UK's highest

New research shows that people in Scotland have been four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than those living south of the border.

A nationwide survey of police records reveals there were 64 searches per 1000 people in 2010 compared with only 17 searches per 1000 in England and Wales.

Huge regional variations

The research examined the records of Scotland’s eight forces between 2005 and 2010 and showed that that most searches were carried out on a non-statutory basis, which means police do not need reasonable suspicion to stop an individual.

The study also concluded that there was huge variation between regions, and that searches tended to disproportionately impact on young people in some parts of Scotland.

The report is part of a doctoral research project at the University of Edinburgh. The research is based on police records that predate the merger of eight forces into Police Scotland in 2013.

Stop and search in Strathclyde

Prior to the merger, Strathclyde was identified as the force most likely to use stop and search.

Despite having a 43 per cent share of Scotland’s population and accounting for a 53 per cent share of Scotland’s drug and weapons offences, Strathclyde Police carried out an 84 per cent share of stop searches.

Officers in Strathclyde carried out ten times more stop and searches (372,900) than the next nearest force, Lothian and Borders (37,700).

The research also showed that Central (39 searches per 1000) and Lothian and Borders (30 searches per 1000) were third and fourth highest for stop and search in Great Britain.

Non-statutory searches

The report highlights the extensive use of non-statutory stop and search, which is premised on verbal consent rather than legislation. In 2010, nearly three-quarters of searches in Scotland were carried out on this basis.

Detection rates for non-statutory searches were around 7 per cent, compared with an 18 per cent detection rate for searches based on reasonable suspicion.

The report suggests that non-statutory stop and search was more likely to be used as a deterrent, although no direct association could be drawn between searches and falling levels of recorded offending.

Teenagers more likely to be searched

The research indicated that young people aged between 15 and 20 years were nearly three times more likely to be searched than those in their early 20s.

In 2010 approximately 500 children aged 10 years and under were stopped and searched. Approximately 80 per cent of the searches carried out on under-10 year olds were non-statutory.

While it is concerning that the use of stop and search has continued to increase under the single service, Police Scotland is now in an ideal position to make sure that stop and search is used fairly, consistently and on the basis of reasonable suspicion. Transparency and accountability are also essential to fair policing, which means that it’s important to ensure that accurate and detailed data on stop and search is routinely published.

Kath MurrayReport author and doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law