Police Scotland has issued nearly 17,000 Recorded Police Warnings since the system was introduced in January, new figures have revealed.
A total of 16,686 of the warnings, dubbed a “soft touch” punishment by critics, were handed out by police between January and October, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Opposition politicians warned that that the new figures showed that the scheme - created to deal with petty crimes in a more efficient way without requiring the creation of a police report - had been used more than was previously anticipated and claimed criminals may not be being properly punished.
The warning system deals with crimes at the lower end of the offending scale immediately at the point at which the offender is traced. It is not applicable for serious crime, such as violence.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross said: “There may well be a place for these warnings as we look to adapt and modernise the justice system.
“But these statistics suggest these warnings are being used more than many people expected. As such, the public will be concerned that criminals aren’t being properly punished, and that will do nothing to deter future offending.”
Police Scotland refused to give details of which crimes the warning system has been used to tackle, claiming that it was “inappropriate” for the Lord Advocate’s Guidelines on Recorded Police Warnings to be released into the public domain.
It was claimed at the time of the scheme’s launch that cannabis possession would continue to be reported to the procurator fiscal in all but a very small number of cases.
The new system updated the previous system of Formal Adult Warnings which were accompanied by a report to prosecutors. Anyone receiving a Recorded Police Warning has it recorded in the criminal history system for two years, while a person who receive two Warnings within a set time for the same offence is then charged.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Recorded police warnings provide a proportionate, formal way of dealing with very minor offences which commonly do not result in court action and will still appear on records for two years.
“The types of crime covered by the scheme are a matter for the Lord Advocate as part of his independent role as head of the system of prosecution.”
The figures showed that the busiest month for Recorded Police Warnings was June, when 2,065 warnings were issued.