3 Identifying legislative gaps around young people and alcohol
This section of the report examines existing evidence around policing young people and alcohol related incidents. Under Section 61 of the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997, the police have a power to require the seizure of alcohol. This allows officers to ask children and young people to hand over any alcohol where it is known or suspected that they are in possession of it in a public place. The police have no specific legislative power to search a person for alcohol, even if officers suspect them of concealing it and they have refused to surrender the alcohol. The only exception to this is at designated sporting events where the police have an alcohol search power in accordance with Section 21 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, which enables officers to check bags and clothing as people enter the venue.
Prior to the abolition of consensual search in May 2017, when the CoP was introduced, it was common for officers using this type of search to identify and remove alcohol from those aged under 18. The expectation amongst members of the IAGSS was that seizure would be increasingly used to deal with alcohol related incidents following the introduction of the CoP. However, many policing representatives were concerned that this would be insufficient to deal with alcohol related problems involving children and young people, especially in certain parts of the West of Scotland where this has historically been a significant problem leading to violence and disorder.
During the period examined in this report, powers of seizure were mainly used for the surrender of alcohol (95% of encounters), while a small proportion of cases involved other items such as tobacco products (4%) or aerosol cans and gas products (2%). This section will focus only on those seizures that involved the recovery of alcohol.
3.2 Evidence about the problem of young people and alcohol
Before examining the use of alcohol seizures in Scotland pre- and post-introduction of the CoP, it is important to consider whether there is any possible underlying reason why there might have been a change in police practice. For example, if alcohol seizures in Scotland have increased or decreased significantly, this may be due to an underlying increase or decrease in problems caused by young people’s drinking behaviour. For this reason, some contextual data was collected about problematic alcohol use amongst young people before and after the implementation of the CoP. It is important to note that the information presented here cannot be used to provide evidence of any causal association between these trends and police use of seizures; however, it provides valuable context within which to consider the findings of the review.
Alcohol consumption amongst young people has been monitored by the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey ( SALSUS) since 1990. The survey, which is completed in Scottish schools amongst young people aged 13 and 15, shows that the proportion of pupils who report ever having an alcoholic drink has been steadily decreasing since 2004 (Scottish Government 2016). In the most recent survey, conducted in 2015, prevalence of alcohol consumption was at its lowest level since the survey began. Looking at those who reported drinking in the last week, there was a large decrease in prevalence between 2010 and 2013, which then remained stable in 2015. Overall, SALSUS suggests that problematic drinking amongst young people has been on a long term decline in Scotland. However, there are no SALSUS data available for the periods immediately before and after the introduction of the CoP.
Two sources of information were examined to identify whether there were indications that alcohol consumption amongst young people may have changed since the implementation of the CoP. These were hospital admissions data and police incident data. Both sources have limitations and caution must be used when interpreting the findings (as detailed below); however, they were the only relevant sources available for this six month review.
Alcohol-related hospital admissions for young people
Figures on hospital admissions for young people aged under 18 were provided by Information Services Division ( ISD), which is part of NHS National Services Scotland. The data includes general acute inpatient and day case stays for young people with an alcohol-related diagnosis across the whole of Scotland, but excludes people presenting to Accident and Emergency who were not admitted as an alcohol-related inpatient or day case.  Data were only available for the four month period following implementation of the CoP (i.e June to September 2017), and it is important to note that data for the latter three months (July to September) were only 98% complete at the time of data collection as not all hospital admissions data had been submitted to ISD. It is possible, therefore, that the figures presented here may increase slightly when they are finally complete. Given the nature of these data, it might reasonably be concluded that they represent serious incidents involving young people’s use of alcohol and are, therefore, incidents that could (in certain circumstances) have drawn the young person to the attention of the police.
Figure 7 shows the number of alcohol-related stays in hospital recorded for young people aged under 18 in Scotland. In total, there were 201 such hospital stays recorded during the four month period following the implementation of the CoP and 196 in the equivalent four month period of the previous year. It is important to compare the same four month periods between years as these data do show a distinct seasonal trend, with a higher number of admissions in the summer months compared to other periods of the year. The chart shows that the number of hospital admissions was slightly higher in June 2017 and slightly lower in July, August and September 2017 compared to the same months of the previous year. However, analysis showed that these differences were not statistically significant. Furthermore, when looking at the total number of stays over the two periods (which averaged 50 per month in 2016 and 49 per month in 2017), there was no significant difference. In other words, notwithstanding the limitations of the data noted above, Figure 7 does not indicate any change in serious alcohol-related behaviour resulting in a hospital stay amongst young people following the introduction of the CoP.
Figure 7: Alcohol-related hospital stays for under 18s in Scotland
Police recorded incidents involving young people and alcohol
Data were provided by Police Scotland from STORM Unity, which is the command and control system used for recording incidents reported to the police. On this system, incidents involving alcohol can be identified using a qualifier code 'Q005 - Alcohol'; however, the recording of this code is not mandatory and it is not always possible at the time of the initial call for the police to be certain that the incident has involved alcohol. Therefore, these data are treated as management information and are indicative only. Furthermore, data are only available for the full period (June 2016 to November 2017) for 11 of the 13 Police Scotland divisions: data for the Highlands & Islands Division were not available as they do not use the STORM Unity system; while data for the North East Division were available for the six months following the introduction of the CoP but not the equivalent six months of 2016. Therefore, the analysis presented here must be treated as partial.
A total of 15,929 alcohol-related incidents (across all age groups) were recorded on the STORM Unity system between June and November 2017 across the 11 police Divisions. This compared to 16,797 in the equivalent period of the previous year, representing a statistically significant decrease in alcohol-related incidents of 5.2%. In addition, there was a 32% reduction in the number of incidents reported to Police Scotland that involved ‘drinking in public’ and a 50% decline in the issuing of fixed penalty notices for public drinking between June and November 2016 and the same period in 2017.  These data suggest that the CoP was introduced during a period when alcohol-related problems were declining, at least from a policing perspective.
Turning to incidents involving alcohol and young people, further qualifier codes were used on the STORM Unity system to identify whether one or more young person under the age of 18 had been involved in an alcohol-related incident. There were 1,154 such incidents involving young people recorded during the six months after the CoP was introduced compared to 1,096 in the equivalent six months of the previous year, which represents a 5.3% increase. However, this increase was not statistically significant. As a relative share of all incidents involving alcohol, the percentage that involved a young person increased only slightly from 6.5% to 7.2%, a non-significant rise of 0.7%.
Looking across the different police Divisions, there was no consistency in terms of the change in alcohol-related incidents involving young people. Figure 8 shows the difference in the number of such incidents recorded within the 11 police Divisions for which data were available. In two divisions (Fife and Renfrewshire & Inverclyde) there was a significant decrease, while in four (Tayside, Forth Valley, Lanarkshire and Dumfries & Galloway) there was a significant increase. In the remaining five divisions (Edinburgh, Lothians & Scottish Borders, Greater Glasgow, Ayrshire and Argyll & West Dunbartonshire) there were some minor changes but these were not statistically significant. The absolute number of incidents also varied considerably between Division, being highest in Greater Glasgow and lowest in Dumfries and Galloway.
Figure 8: Change in number of alcohol-related incidents involving young people, pre- and post- CoP
At the national level, the data presented here provide no evidence of a significant change in alcohol-related incidents involving people under the age of 18, either in terms of hospital admissions or incidents recorded by the police, in the period following the introduction of the CoP. At the level of police divisions, the picture is more mixed in relation to police recorded incidents, with some areas showing a significant increase, others a significant decrease and the remainder no significant change between periods. Unfortunately, the number of hospital admissions was too small to release the data at sub-national level, so it is unclear whether the same mixed picture is present. Therefore, it is difficult to say with any certainty whether there are underlying changes at a sub-Divisional level that may have influenced changing practice in relation to police use of seizure. The relationship between the trends presented here and the Divisional use of seizures will be examined in more detail below.
3.3 Change in the use of seizure by age
In the six months following the introduction of the CoP, there were 1,629 alcohol seizures in Scotland. This represents a 60% decrease from the equivalent period in the previous year, during which there were 4,109 alcohol seizures. Table 5 shows that police seizures were not used exclusively for young people. In fact, in the six month period from June to November 2016 (prior to the introduction of the CoP), only 21% of all seizures involved people under the age of 18. Using these age bands, the most common group to have surrendered alcohol were those aged 26 to 40. During the six months following the introduction of the CoP, there was a reduction in the number of seizures amongst all age groups; however, the age profile of those who surrendered alcohol changed significantly. The relative share of those subject to seizure who were aged under 18 was 11% higher following the introduction of the CoP compared to the equivalent six months in the previous year, while the relative share of all other groups (especially those aged 41-55) was lower.
So, although the use of seizure declined across all age groups after the Code was introduced, it declined far less for children and young people than it did for those in older age groups. At face value, this suggests that the level of policing demand involving alcohol-related issues may have declined across all ages, but concern about possession of alcohol amongst under 18s became relatively more prominent. This is consistent with the finding that police incident data for alcohol related incidents had declined overall, but the relative percentage of cases involving young people had increased in the period following the introduction of the CoP.
Table 5: Number of seizures pre and post-implementation of the CoP by age group (% of all searches)
|Age group||June to Nov 2016 N (%)||June to Nov 2017 N (%) ||% change in relative share|
|Under 18||864 (21%)||512 (32%)||+11%|
|18-25||836 (20%)||299 (18%)||-2%|
|26-40||1,294 (32%)||482 (30%)||-2%|
|41-55||928 (23%)||294 (18%)||-5%|
|Over 55||186 (5%)||40 (3%)||-2%|
Note: Column percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.
The trends in use of seizure are shown in more detail through a month by month analysis in Figure 9. This confirms that there was a significant decline in the use of seizures for all age groups; however, the decline for those aged under 18 was less steep than that for other age groups, especially in the period preceding the introduction of the CoP. There is a very distinct spike in the use of seizure for under 18s in April 2017, which on further investigation reflects a large increase in the use of seizures within several Divisions in the West, including Greater Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire (as confirmed in Figure 10). Data from the Met Office for that period indicates that it was a warm, sunny April with lower than average rainfall across the UK.  These conditions can be associated with an increase in public drinking by young people, especially when they coincide with a public holiday (such as Easter), which may well explain this deviation from the downward trend. Following the introduction of the CoP in May 2017, however, the number of seizures amongst under 18s continued to fall to the extent that it had almost reached the same rate of decline as that of the other age groups by November 2017.
Figure 9: Percentage change in seizures for alcohol since May 2016
In the previous section, it was clear that the number of alcohol-related incidents involving young people under the age of 18 that were recorded on the STORM Unity system varied significantly by police Division. Unfortunately, it was not possible to analyse change in the monthly number of seizures involving young people by Division due to the small numbers. However, when they were clustered into Command Areas, Figure 10 clearly shows that the striking decline in alcohol seizures amongst young people was almost entirely due to a change in policing activity in the West of Scotland. In fact, this large decline can be primarily attributed to a 90% reduction in the use of seizures in the Greater Glasgow Division. Given that the number of alcohol-related incidents involving young people that were recorded on the STORM Unity system in Greater Glasgow had actually increased by 10% over this period (as illustrated in Figure 8), it is very difficult to explain this apparent contradiction in policing response. This is clearly an area that requires far greater consideration in the 12 month review.
Figure 10: Change in the number of alcohol seizures amongst people aged under 18, by Command Area
The trend in alcohol seizures for those under 18 during the six months after the introduction of the CoP was not at all similar to the trend in the equivalent six months of the previous year, which indicates that this is not a seasonal trend. It seems clear, therefore, that there was a real and sustained decline in the use of the tactic for this age group, which is almost entirely explained by a change of behaviour in the Greater Glasgow. Since the police incident data indicated that there was an increase in the recording of alcohol-related incidents involving young people in Greater Glasgow, it seems unlikely that the drop in seizures was due to a significant fall in demand. These findings strongly suggest a deliberate drop in the use of powers to seize alcohol amongst this age group in the West of Scotland, where problems of this nature are typically highest within Scotland (as demonstrated in Figure 8). This raises a serious question about whether seizure is being used to greatest effect or whether there are problems with the use of this tactic that require to be considered further by the Independent Advisory Group. As part of the 12 month review, it is recommended that the qualitative research investigate this issue.
3.4 Change in the recovery of alcohol through statutory search
As noted earlier, consensual searches were commonly used in the past to remove alcohol from individuals; however, following the controversy around the use of consensual searches (which had no statutory power), the number of consensual searches declined significantly after the HMICS report was published in 2015. During the six month period June to November 2016 (prior to the introduction of the CoP) there were 616 consensual searches, of which only 43 (7%) resulted in the recovery of alcohol. During the same period, there were 19,257 statutory searches of which only 96 (0.5%) recovered alcohol. Following implementation of the CoP, consensual searches were abolished; however, there is no indication of a change in the efficacy of statutory searches to recover alcohol since of the 15,724 searches conducted only 68 (0.4%) resulted in the recovery of alcohol. These findings are not conclusive in terms of identifying whether a statutory power to search for alcohol is required in Scotland; however, there is certainly no indication that statutory searching is being used as a mechanism to indirectly search for alcohol.
3.5 Evidence from Calls for Feedback
Six examples of evidence were provided to Police Scotland through the Calls for Feedback which highlighted the absence of a police power to search for alcohol (see Appendix 1). All of these examples relate specifically to crowds or large-scale events which were not formally organised (e.g. arranged through social media) and therefore not subject to Section 67 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. The main concern was that events involving hundreds of youths are impractical to deal with through seizure alone as youths conceal the alcohol in their bags in the knowledge that police have no power to search for it. It is equally impractical, as well as undesirable, to deal with the problem through arrest where young people refuse to surrender alcohol when asked. In fact, there have been only 2 arrests of young people for contravening the requirement to surrender alcohol in accordance with Section 61 of the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 since the introduction of the CoP which indicates a lack of desire amongst officers to criminalise young people in these circumstances (and is in line with the current Whole System Approach to dealing with young people involved in offending).
A specific case study of a beach party in South and North Ayrshire in July 2017 is provided by Police Scotland in Appendix 1. In this event, several thousand people (many under 18) travelled to Ayrshire by train to attend an impromptu party on Troon beach and there was clear evidence of alcohol consumption and possession. The case study notes that social media was used to make a firm policing stance on public drinking and there was a high visible police presence. It is also noted that significant quantities of alcohol were surrendered and seized as people alighted from trains and left the station. An issue with regards to recording seizures in such ‘exceptional circumstances’ is raised which is important, given the concern of the IAGSS to ensure that such encounters are accurately recorded. However, it seems likely that few if any of these seizures were recorded given that only 32 seizures in total (and only 8 for under 18s) were recorded in the Ayrshire Division in the whole of July 2017 – a figure that was lower than that for other months both before and after the event.
In the absence of accurate data, it is difficult to draw any concrete conclusions about the extent to which the need for a power of search is required. However, it is clear that this issue needs to be thoroughly investigated as part of the 12 month review and that further evidence of the impact of this area of the legislation is required.
The police in Scotland have a power to request the surrender of alcohol Under Section 61 of the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997; however, there is no police power to search a young person for alcohol in a public place even if an officer suspects it to be concealed (for example, in a jacket or bag). Prior to the introduction of the CoP, officers highlighted that policing incidents involving young people and alcohol could be problematic and could result in an increased use of arrest where individuals were unwilling to surrender alcohol. Evidence was collated about any possible underlying reasons why alcohol seizures may have changed in the period following the introduction of the CoP. The existing evidence suggests that alcohol consumption has been on a long-term decline amongst young people in Scotland and, using indicative information from Police Scotland data on recorded alcohol-related incidents and NHS data on hospital admissions for young people on alcohol-related grounds, there was no indication of a significant change in problematic alcohol use amongst young people before and after the introduction of the CoP at a national level. The picture was not entirely consistent across police Divisions, however, with some showing evidence of an increase or decrease in police recorded incidents involving young people and alcohol, while others were fairly stable. Use of seizures did not always match these trends, however, which raises questions about the extent to which productivity matches demand.
It was expected that there would be an increased use of seizure as consensual searching reduced, and this was certainly true following the publication of the HMICS report in 2015. However, the evidence from this review suggests that there has been an ongoing decline in the use of powers to seize alcohol since May 2016. This was true across all age groups except those under 18, for whom seizures declined at a much slower rate until April 2017. Since the introduction of the CoP there has been a sharp decline in the use of alcohol seizures amongst young people, especially in the West of Scotland where historically alcohol related problems amongst young people have been especially problematic.
There is no evidence that statutory searches are being used inappropriately or indirectly to search for alcohol. However, police officers have continued to express concern about policing young people and alcohol without an express power of search, especially with reference to large crowds or major unorganised events, which cannot be dealt with under Section 67 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. It is clear that officers have been reluctant to resort to arrests to remove alcohol from young people and risk criminalising them; however, the number of recorded seizures appears to be at odds with the claims that they are used extensively (e.g. in the example of the Ayrshire beach case study). To understand the patterns of search in relation to alcohol related problems within specific Divisions, further evidence on the value of seizure as a tactic and the additional benefit that would be obtained through having the power to search is required.
Recommendations for the 12 month review:
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.