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Agenda: Stop-and-search an important tool in police efforts to keep Scotland safe

Violent crime in Scotland fell by 11.5% - between April and December last year - which meant there were 683 fewer victims of violent crime than in the same period the previous year.

One of the reasons for this is Police Scotland's effective use of stop-and-search, which is just one of a number of lawful tactics we have used to cut violent crime and anti-social behaviour since the single policing service was set up last April.

This has been achieved in spite of the fact there were slightly fewer (0.2%) stop-and-searches than the previous year, because of the large rise from 13.9% to 19.7% in the number of positive searches. As a result of the 102,285 positive searches carried out by police officers, 66 firearms have been recovered, 4273 weapons including knifes seized and more than 110,000 stolen goods retrieved.

Anti-social behaviour is one of the most common issues raised by local communities throughout Scotland and it dominates local policing plans. That is why it is a key priority for Police Scotland. Between April and December, anti-social behaviour fell by 13.4%, which equates to 41,650 fewer complaints received.

This success is because the use of stop-and-search is targeted and intelligence-led and we use robust management information to ensure we continuously improve our work. We are committed to keeping people safe right across every area of Scotland - and this is exactly why we carry out stop-and-searches.

Because of these improving results, I believe we have the support of the vast majority of the public across communities in Scotland, and this can also be seen by the very low number of complaints received. There were around 30 after 519,213 stop-and-searches − a complaint rate of just 0.005%.

While the academic research quoted in The Herald last week from Edinburgh University said there was a huge rise in the number of stop-and-searches, this looked at the period between 2005 and 2010. This is not the case at the present time − the number of stop-and-searches has actually gone down slightly during the first period of Police Scotland.

There are other academic views on the use of stop-and-search. Ross Deuchar, professor of criminology at the University of the West of Scotland and author of Policing Youth Violence: Transatlantic Connections, last week wrote: "My experiences have shown that officers are drawing upon the fundamental values of integrity, fairness and respect in conducting stop-and-searches, and winning the trust of many young people along the way."

Having studied Scottish police officers out on patrol, he also said "most of the officers placed an emphasis on rapport-building and positive dialogue".

Police Scotland is determined to ensure we build upon this rapport with young people, which is why I particularly welcome the recent comments of Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, who said the country had seen a reduction in the number of young people sent to the Children's Reporter on offence grounds, a reduction in knife crime and progress under way with binge drinking and linked anti-social behaviour among young people. She believes Police Scotland has played a crucial part in these achievements.

Young people are also disproportionate victims of crime and that is reflected in the importance we place on our school "campus cops" and our investment in support for young people to divert them from crime. Extensive community safety activities mean we are well placed to understand how to engage young people to help prevent crime and keep them safe.

Our policing purpose is to keep people safe. Local communities tell us repeatedly that reducing violent crime and having a visible policing presence on our streets are priorities for them. The use of stop-and-search, where it is targeted and intelligence-led and used in the right place at the right time, is an effective and legal tactic that helps us support those priorities.

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