Police to improve stop-and-search data after error

POLICE Scotland has said it is improving its stop and search database after admitting a series of errors in how it recorded and stored information.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House at yesterday's SPA meeting. Picture: TSPL
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House at yesterday's SPA meeting. Picture: TSPL

Senior officers last week told MSPs that more than 20,000 records had been lost after “someone pressed the wrong button” while using the internal system.

It followed revelations that officers had incorrectly recorded searches of children under the age of 12 while using the ­“clunky” computer program.

Yesterday, the force told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority it had already begun making improvements to the system, including introducing a “pop-up” box which queries officers when they input the age of a person who is 11 or younger.

It has also re-introduced weekly checks of stop-and-search data.

However, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House faced calls to allow an independent review of the force’s data handling amid continuing concerns.

Sir Stephen said it would have been “perverse” not to address the issue of stop and search during yesterday’s meeting, given the focus on the issue over the past few weeks.

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick: “We already introduced some improvements. We’ve introduced the recording of nominal information, including a date of birth field which can validate age as it’s being recorded. That has reduced the number of keystroke errors.

“A pop-up box appears on the screen if a officer inputs a date of birth which would make the individual 11 years or younger. That ensures officers check they have entered the right date of birth and also reminds them of the policy in relation to stop and search and searching young people under the age of 12.”

She said more improvements would come in the next few months, including the ability to “flag” a stop and search record and send it back to an officer.

But Brian Barbour, a member of the SPA board, said there was a need for an independent review of how Police Scotland records data within its IT systems and called on the SPA to commission one.

He said: “The stop and search database was introduced within the last year. I was disappointed to hear it described as ‘clunky’ and surprised that 20,000 records could be lost and not easily recovered.

“I’m happy you’re addressing the stop and search database issues, but for me it’s more the wider issues that the processes are what they should be.

“Do we have a process that stands up to scrutiny? I don’t feel comfortable at the moment that the process is robust.”

Dep Chf Const Fitzpatrick said the records lost related to items seized during positive searches. She said the force had been contacting individual officers who carried out the searches so that the data could be re-entered into the system.

Earlier this month it emerged Police Scotland had continued to carry out stop-searches on children under 12, despite giving assurances last summer that the controversial tactic had been stopped.

It is expected police will push for new powers to search for ­alcohol should the practice of carrying out “consensual” searches of under-18s be scrapped.