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No dramatic impact from stop and search changes: interim review

22 February 2018

Introducing the code of practice on police use of stop and search has had no dramatic impact on policing in the first six months afterwards, according to a newly published interim review of the new system.

However, although the overall decline in the use of searching practices recorded following the high level of criticism of the preceding two years has continued, the report finds some wide variations in trends in different parts of Scotland. It calls for a further examination of these by the full review to be carried out of the first 12 months of the new policy.

The code of practice, drawn up by an independent advisory group chaired by solicitor advocate John Scott QC, came into force in May 2017.

The interim review concludes that the figures, which show a continuation of the downward trend since May 2016, reflect "the high level of criticism targeted at the over-use of searching practices in Scotland in the preceding two years, followed by an intense period of scrutiny and the decision to abolish consensual searching and introduce a CoP, [which] had already changed policing practice and driven down the number of encounters well before the CoP came into force".

Importantly, the report continues, the decline in the number of searches "did coincide with a significant increase in positive outcomes, which suggests that they are now based on a higher threshold of reasonable suspicion and, therefore, being used more effectively". However, there was a much greater decline in the use of alcohol seizures than expected, especially in the West of Scotland, "which is surprising given the concerns expressed by policing representatives and other organisations in the public consultation period about the lack of a legal power to search for alcohol".

In addition, there continues to be "enormous geographical variation in the use of search and seizure". There has been a much higher proportionate decline in searches and seizures in the West of Scotland compared to the North (which remained fairly stable) and the East (which slightly increased) following the introduction of the code. 

Describing the picture as a complex one, the report recommends that the 12 month review examines the reasons for the geographical differences, the sharp decline in alcohol seizures in the west of Scotland against an apparent increase in alcohol related incidents among young people, the level of evidence supporting the need for a specific power to search young people for alcohol – on which a decision was put off when the code of practice was introduced – as well as power to search vehicles or people in private dwellings, among other matters.

The review was carried out by Professor Susan McVie of the University of Edinburgh.

Click here to access the review report. 

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