Davidson: Police chiefs leaving public in dark

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MORE must be done to inform the public of major changes to police tactics following controversies over armed officers and the use of stop and search, it has been claimed.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said police watchdogs and the public at large were too often being “left in the dark” about major policing decisions.

Her intervention came after the Scottish Police Federation (SFP) accused MSPs of “ignorance” over the issue of stop and search.

Last week it emerged that more than 300 children under the age of 12 have been stop-searched by police since a senior office gave the Scottish Parliament justice committee an assurance that the practice would be stopped.

Ms Davidson said: “Major changes – such as the routine arming of police officers – are happening with people given little or no notice. That’s simply wrong.

“If police chiefs are going to make controversial changes to the way they watch over us, whether it be stop and search or more speed cameras, then the public deserves to know about that.

“The Scottish Police Authority [SPA] has too often had to play catch-up. One thing that should happen immediately is an agreement that police chiefs always give the SPA advance notice whenever they are planning a major policy change.

“Then the SPA should make sure all relevant bodies are made aware of it so that everything happens in the open.”

She added: “The problem here isn’t political ignorance, it’s the fact that the public are being left in the dark when massive changes are brought in.

“If the Scottish Police Federation can’t see there’s a problem here, then the arrogance we are seeing among senior police figures is clearly worse than we feared.”

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In an open letter to MSPs published on Monday, the SPF’s general secretary Calum Steele said the debate on non-statutory or so-called “consensual” searches had unearthed “frightening ­levels of political ignorance”.

Responding to the letter yesterday, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said there was a need for a national “consensus” on stop and search.

He said: “As I indicated last week, we need to consider a range of measures that could replace the current policing tactic of consensual stop and search.

“In doing so, we need to be able to balance society’s expectations with powers which ensure that the public can continue to be properly protected.

“That decision to review measures to replace the consensual element of stop and search was taken against a backdrop of a record drop in crime, including violent crime, across Scotland; Police Scotland’s clear commitment to use police powers proportionately; and the use of a broader range of stop and search measures piloted in Fife.

“There was also recognition that there are regional differences in the proportions of ­legislative and consensual stop and search across Scotland. Such variations illustrate the evidence-led nature of the use of the tactic, rather than any perceived artificial volume targets, which Police Scotland has never operated.”

The SPA is holding a public meeting on Friday to discuss the issue of stop and search.

The debate has been re-ignited after figures published last week showed 356 children under the age of 12 were stopped by police officers. They had been searched for alcohol, drugs, stolen property and weapons.

A spokesman for the SPA said: “The scrutiny work that the SPA has undertaken on both stop and search and armed policing has made a raft of key recommendations for improvements and how Police Scotland respond to that is scrutinised regularly in our public meetings. Those are examples of good ­governance in action.”