- This report presents the findings of the interim six month review to evaluate the implementation of the new Code of Practice ( CoP) on stop and search and consider whether there may be any gaps in legislative provision. It also provides recommendations for areas of research to be considered in a more extensive 12 month review.
Change in use of search and seizure
- The introduction of the CoP on police use of stop and search did not have a dramatic impact on policing practice at the time of its implementation in May 2017 or in the six months afterwards. This was mainly because the use of both search and seizure in Scotland had changed and numbers had declined significantly well before the CoP came into force.
- The decline in the number of searches coincided with a significant increase in positive outcomes following the introduction of the CoP, which suggests that they are now based on a higher threshold of reasonable suspicion and, therefore, used more effectively.
- The use of both search and seizure reduced dramatically in Command Areas in the West of Scotland compared to those in the North (which remained fairly stable) and the East (which slightly increased) following the introduction of the CoP.
- There has been a far greater percentage reduction in seizures than searches, especially in the West Command Areas, which is surprising given the concerns expressed by Police Scotland about the lack of a legal power to search for alcohol.
- Despite the declining numbers, there continues to be enormous geographical variation in the use of search and seizure across Scotland, and it is clear that the introduction of the CoP has had a varied impact on policing practice and positive outcomes across the 13 police Divisions.
- Strip searches are a very low proportion of all searches, but they have a higher than average detection rate which suggests that a high threshold of reasonable suspicion is used when deciding to conduct a strip search.
- Receipts were issued following 87% of all searches, although this varied according to a range of factors, most especially the Division in which the search was conducted.
Young people and alcohol
- Evidence suggests that alcohol consumption amongst young people in Scotland has been on a long-term decline. There was little or no change in alcohol-related incidents involving young people following the introduction of the CoP, based on indicative data from both Police Scotland and NHS hospital admissions.
- Trends in recorded alcohol-related incidents involving young people varied across police Divisions, with some showing an increase, some a decrease, and others remaining fairly stable. However, the pattern of seizures was not always consistent with these trends.
- Alcohol seizures declined for all age groups including young people aged under 18, especially in the West of Scotland where there is a long history of alcohol related problems amongst young people. It is unclear why this is the case.
- Police officers highlighted that the policing of young people carrying alcohol without an express power of search, especially in large crowds or major unorganised events, had caused some problems.
- Officers have not resorted to arrests to remove alcohol from young people, which has avoided criminalising many. There is also no evidence that statutory searches have been used inappropriately or indirectly to search for alcohol.
Use of Section 60 authorisations
- The review found no evidence of an increase in the use of Section 60 authorisations (or so-called ‘no suspicion’ searches) by Police Scotland as a way of creating wider opportunities for search under the CoP. This contrasts strongly with England and Wales, where the power has been used extensively resulting in Home Office criticism and intervention.
Potential legislative gaps
- In the period following the introduction of the CoP, there was a total of 22 incidents in which officers intervened under Sections 20 and 32 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 to protect life and, as part of that intervention, conducted a search.
- The lack of a legislative power of search to protect life is the most common issue that police officers have highlighted since the implementation of the CoP.
- Other areas raised as potential legislative gaps include the power to search for weapons in a non-public location, including dwellings and vehicles; and the power to search for pyrotechnics and flares.
People with protected characteristics
- Rates of search reduced across all ages. While young people continued to be the most likely group to experience a search, the degree of disproportionality in terms of targeting younger people significantly declined in the period following the introduction of the CoP.
- Rates of seizure also declined significantly across all age groups; however, the seizure rates had declined less for young people under the age of 18 than for older people.
- There was a significant increase in positive search outcomes for all age groups after the introduction of the CoP, but especially amongst those for whom positive rates were lowest prior to the CoP.
- There continues to be room for improvement with regards to increasing positive outcomes for young people under 18, for whom positive detections are still lowest.
- The overall number of searches and seizures declined for both males and females following the introduction of the CoP, and positive outcomes increased for both.
- Searches and seizures predominantly involved white people both before and after the introduction of the CoP.
- There was a significant reduction in search rates per capita for all non-white ethnic groups.
- Positive rates of search increased across all ethnic groups, but especially the non-white groups.
- There was a large increase in the proportion of cases for which ethnicity was recorded as ‘unknown/not provided’ which needs to be explained.
Predicting a positive search outcome
- Taking a range of factors into account, the likelihood of a positive search outcome was predicted strongly by age, but less so by ethnicity and not at all by gender. It was also influenced by the time of day and day of the week that the search was conducted.
- Searches for stolen property were more likely to result in a positive outcome than those for drugs, while searches for offensive weapons were the least successful type of search.
- There were significant differences in the likelihood of a positive outcome based on the Division in which the search took place. The odds of a positive search was three times higher in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire than Greater Glasgow, which had the lowest odds of a positive search.
- Searches were around 33% more likely to result in a positive detection in the six months following the introduction of the CoP than in the equivalent six month period of the previous year.
- These findings indicate that there has been a real, measurable improvement in the likelihood of a positive search during the period following the introduction of the CoP that was not caused by other known factors relating to the nature of the search.
Recommendations for the 12 month review
1. To examine the reasons for the geographical differences in the changing patterns of search and seizure based on police Division.
2. To examine the reasons for the geographical differences in rates of positive search based on police Division.
3. To examine the reasons for the non-issue of receipts to people who have been subject to search and to consider the geographical differences in issuing receipts between police Divisions.
4. To examine the sharp decline in the use of alcohol seizures within the West of Scotland, and in Greater Glasgow in particular, and to explain this against an apparent backdrop of increasing alcohol-related incidents amongst people aged under 18.
5. To examine the extent to which evidence exists to support the need for a power to search young people for alcohol, especially in relation to large unplanned events.
6. To examine the extent to which evidence exists to support the need for a specific power to search people in circumstances where it is needed to protect life.
7. To examine the extent to which evidence exists to support the extension of powers to search vehicles or people in private dwellings.
8. To examine the extent to which evidence exists to support the need for powers to search for pyrotechnic articles in public places.
9. To examine the disproportionality in the use of stop and search amongst young people under the age of 18 and the lower positive search outcome amongst this group.
10. To examine the reasons for the increase in the recording of ethnic status as ‘unknown/not recorded’.
11. To examine generally how practice in relation to search and seizure has changed within police Divisions as a result of the introduction of the Code of Practice and why this has led to an increase in positive search rates.