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Police: our bosses bully us to boost stop and search figures

Officers are making up between 50% and 90% of their stop-and-searches and are being bullied into increasing the number of frisks, according to a series of "damning" police interviews.

Police say they are under pressure to make up searches.Top, police in Leith: officers in the east were among the most critical of the policy. Middle, police talk to youths in Glasgow. Bottom, Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House Main picture:  Kieran Dodds
Police say they are under pressure to make up searches.Top, police in Leith: officers in the east were among the most critical of the policy. Middle, police talk to youths in Glasgow. Bottom, Police Scotland Chief Constable Stephen House Main picture: Kieran Dodds

A constable was also reduced to tears after failing to carry out enough searches, while other officers were shouted at by their sergeants over the same issue.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), which commissioned the research, has been blasted by MSPs after details of the interviews were left out of its original report.

Stop-and-search was one of the Strathclyde Police's key anti-crime policies and it has since been rolled out across the country by the single force's chief constable, Stephen House.

In the first year of Police Scotland, one area recorded a rise in the controversial procedure of up to 400%.

However, the policy has been marred by allegations that officers, under pressure from their bosses, have been entering bogus searches to keep the numbers up.

The large number of "consensual" searches - which have no legal basis - has also proved controversial.

The Scottish Police Authority, which scrutinises the single force, recently published a review of ­stop-and-search based on various pieces of work, including interviews with officers by consultancy firm Blake Stevenson.

However, the SPA summarised the police interview report into less than three pages in its own review.

With little fanfare, and without an accompanying press release, the SPA then published the full 41-page report on its website.

It showed that officers thought there were "positive benefits" from stop-and-search but also contained damaging insights about the national roll-out of the policy.

Officers from divisions in the north and east of Scotland were particularly critical.

On the pressure faced by ordinary officers, one constable in the east reported "sergeants coming into briefing rooms and shouting at you, making you get more stop searches, being drummed in every day 'get your figures up, get your figures up'".

Another officer in the same part of the country reflected: "I'll be honest, I think it's a numbers game … I do feel like we are put under pressure as PCs to get the numbers in."

A third constable noted: "If you haven't got enough you get taken into the sergeant's office and shouted at... my colleague got brought to tears the other day, which I don't think is what policing is all about."

A colleague claimed each shift's use of stop-and-search was put on display, as a way of showing which shifts were "working harder than others … as far as we were concerned [it was] a bullying tactic".

The section in the report on the "over-recording" of stop-and-searches also confirms Sunday Herald stories about "ghost" entries being entered into the police computer.

It noted a "few interviewees" were "concerned" that officers could record searches that had not actually happened, with one senior officer saying the practice was "common".

The report said: "When pressed for how significant this over-recording might be he stated that it could be as high as 90% for some officers and around 50% for others."

The interviews also contained worrying testimony on consensual searches, which Police Scotland recently scrapped for children under 12.

One officer said the non-statutory searches were for the "common good", but noted: "You do breach human rights by doing it but the public expect us to do it."

Another said of stop-and-search more generally: "It's open to abuse.

"Some officers are more hardline and go straight for it without talking to people first. They don't reveal the limit to the powers they have."

None of these interviews made it into the SPA's original report.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "This is a damning assessment of the way that stop-and-search is being handled from officers on the front line of Scottish policing.

"What we have from these comments is a picture of a target-led national police force more concerned with enhancing statistics than human rights or treating officers with the respect they deserve.

"And it clearly raises questions as to why the full extent of officers' concerns and criticisms were withheld by the SPA and quietly published weeks after its report.

"This is further proof, were it needed, that parliament must get a grip of this situation and defy the justice secretary's complacency."

Graeme Pearson, the Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: "The officers' candid comments reflect the existence of a credibility gap between rank-and-file police and their chief officers.

"The SPA's attempt to hide these views by using selected extracts in their initial report reflects very poorly on their ability to truly hold the police service to account.

"If they cannot face the full impact of what is discovered and being done in their name they should move on and allow new board members to fulfil that role."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Police Authority said: "We saw no need to include the entire Blake Stevenson research within our final report as it was always our ­intention to publish the research in full on our website.

"The research was an important input despite the relatively small sample-size of officers interviewed."

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "Police Scotland co-operated fully with the SPA review and is reviewing all 10 recommendations from the scrutiny final report.

"The SPA report concludes that 'intelligence-led stop search can play a part in helping detect and prevent criminal and anti-social behaviour.'

"A six-month pilot has been launched in Fife Division where Police Scotland, working with a large number of partners, is committed to find the best way to deliver on the recommendations in the SPA review."

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