POLICE are carrying out tens of thousands of stop and searches in the hunt for drugs and weapons.
New figures revealed that use of the powers has nearly quadrupled in recent years.
Officers conducted a total of 38,788 stop and searches in Lothian and Borders between last April and March, with firearms and stolen property among the haul recovered. The use of searches has soared since 2005-6 when only 11,075 were executed in the force area.
Human rights groups today questioned whether the increased use of powers to stop and search people in the street constituted an “intrusion into people’s privacy”.
Campaigners from Justice cited the large number of searches which proved “negative” last year – 33,517 of the total – as evidence insufficient “discretion” was being used by police. But police chiefs insisted the searches targeted “areas known for high levels of criminality”, and did not target “random” individuals.
Police figures, released under freedom of information laws, showed that around 13 per cent of the searches – 5271 of them – last year proved to be “positive”. Of these, 1531 were for drugs, 395 for weapons, 665 for stolen property, 18 for firearms and 2437 for alcohol – often for people trying to carry drink into sporting events or on public transport.
In 2005-6, 1954 of the 11,075 searches were “positive”.
Jodie Blackstock, from Justice, said; “The figures do seem to show quite a high number of stop and searches, and that might suggest there could be an intrusion into people’s privacy.
“Although we acknowledge that they can be a useful tool for the police, the figures suggest that a large number of the searches prove negative and such searches may not have been used with as much discretion as they could have been.
“Our concern is also that by targeting specific groups of people or particular areas there can be discrimination as well as intrusion into lives which is not warranted.”
Scottish Tory chief whip John Lamont MSP backed the increased use of the powers.
He said: “The public have to be reassured that with so many searches taking place, the proper procedures are being carried out by police. However, it is clear that with so many drugs, weapons and firearms being confiscated, such action is needed to make our streets safer.”
Police have no general right to search people at random, but officers can conduct a search without a warrant if they suspect someone of being in possession of items such as drugs, weapons or stolen property.
The majority of searches carried out in the force area in the last year have been for drugs and weapons – more than 23,000 of the total number.
A police spokesman said: “Stop searches are not carried out at random, but target areas known for high levels of criminality. The legislation which authorises the use of stop searching is in place to ensure the public remain safe and any officers carrying out searches do so with the best interests of the public at heart.”