Leaders: Stop and search policy | Trams reality

ON INITIAL inspection, the figures issued by the Scottish Police Authority on how Police Scotland uses its powers to stop and search people suggest it is a valuable weapon in the battle against crime.

The Edinburgh Trams will officially start today. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
The Edinburgh Trams will officially start today. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach

But further thought also suggests that too widespread a use of it could well be storing up problems for the future.

According to Police Scotland, one in five searches finds something – usually either a knife or drugs. That means that a lot of knives and drugs are being taken off the streets and that crime is being prevented from happening. There may also be a deterrent effect. If people are aware that there is a reasonable chance they will be stopped by the police and searched, they are less likely to carry offensive weapons in public or carry drugs around.

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It is also interesting that stop-and-search, prior to the amalgamation of Scotland’s regional police forces, was primarily used by Strathclyde Police. This practice has now been spread nationwide and it would be interesting to know if it has had a positive effect where it was not previously used.

But the total number of stops to search – 640,669 over the 12 months to the end of March this year – is also alarming. It means that the average Scot has about a one in eight chance of being asked to submit to a search by a police officer.

Of course, middle-aged men in suits and elderly people are most unlikely to experience this, which means that the police are concentrating their attention on certain groups, most probably young people. Their likelihood of being stopped and searched at least once in a year must beremarkably high.

Moreover, the incidence of the use of stop-and-search is astonishingly high when compared to the Metropolitan Police area. Three times more of these instances have been recorded by Police Scotland than in London and yet the population served by the Met is about a third bigger.

Stop-and-search by the Met has been widely discredited as it bec­ame known that Asian and black people were far more likely to be approached. Thankfully, there is no such evidence of any ethnic targeting in the Police Scotland figures, but equally Scotland does not have the size of ethnic minority populations that London has.

Just under four in five of the Scottish searches are also said to be voluntary. That could be a little misleading – many people, if asked to submit to a search by officers, could find that a little hum­iliating and would rather not be frisked in public, but nonetheless may submit knowing that the alternatives might be worse.

And that’s where the problem lies. Being physically searched by the police is never likely to be uplifting. It is much more likely to cause resentment which may grow the more times it happens. Police Scotland needs to be more judicious in its use of this power; its use looks to be far too commonplace, and risks alienating many young people.

Trams dream is a reality – at last

Today in Edinburgh is tram day. After all the construction disruption, the cost

expansion and the line shrinkage, the rows with the main contractor, the even bigger political controversies, the traffic disruption, now citizens and visitors can get on board a tram and enjoy the ride.

It is just over half a century since the capital’s streets heard the sounds of metal wheels on steel tracks. The last decade or so since it was first mooted that they be heard again might also feel like half a century to many of Edinburgh’s citizens, especially to those whose businesses were on the route and who suffered as the drills and excavators roared.

But those days are in the past now and in the past they must remain, seemed to be what the Scottish Government was saying yesterday when the possibility of more government cash to extend the route was firmly ruled out. Yet to be discovered is whether the line is actually worth it. The hype of its supporters and the critique of its detractors is now about to face the acid test – will there be enough fare-paying passengers to make it economically viable? The line may well cover its operating costs, but whether there will be enough revenue to cover the capital costs looks

extremely doubtful.

Indeed, one year’s figures are unlikely to settle that question. The Scottish Government and the city council would be wise to let the dust settle for several years before contemplating any extensions. The cost-benefit calculation needs to take into account the extra business activity the line is supposed to stimulate and that will not appear overnight.

In the meantime, the trams are running and look great. Edinburgh’s citizens should use them.