RECORD numbers of people are being stopped and searched by Scotland's police, fuelling fears that the approach is becoming unethical.

The new nationwide single force has used the powers on a massive scale across the country since it took over policing in April - including a doubling of the number of people being dealt with in Edinburgh.

The total is a far higher proportion of the public than is being dealt with by forces in England and Wales where the legislation is different but the population is more than 10 times higher than Scotland's 5.2million.

Across Scotland, officers stopped and searched 186,463 members of the public since April  in the first three months of Police Scotland's existence.

By comparison, for the full 2012-3 year across Strathclyde there were more than 612,000 stop searches, although senior police say this led to a record performance with a 50% reduction in violent crime since 2007. The Metropolitan Police conducted 441,682 stop searches in 2011/12 for 7.2 million people.

Today, Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House presents a report to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) denying the searches are driven by targets. However, earlier this month frontline officers in Scotland were told to prioritise stop and searches.

An email sent to approximately 1800 officers in Greater Glasgow on August 7 told them to use overtime "solely for the purpose of targeting stop searches within GD Sub-Division" and that "NIL returns are not acceptable under any circumstances".

Following complaints from officers, a clarification was sent the following day explaining that they have to be ethical and that "activity has to be focused on the right people at the right places".

People can be stopped and searched if the police have probable suspicion that an individual is engaged in specific kinds of criminal activity. Sir Stephen states: "Use of the stop-and-search tactic should always be lawful, proportionate, intelligence-led and respectful to the member of the public involved.

"There are no individual officer targets for stop-and-search activity."

He points out that just 19 complaints have been made about stop searches this year and that one in five searches was positive as compared to less than 10% in England, where the practice has been regularly criticised for being racist. In Scotland, 2.7% of searches related to people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

However, the email which was sent out by an inspector to Glasgow divisions on August 7, states: "Overtime has been made available to each group, solely for the purpose of targeting stop searches within GD Sub-Division.

"The sole objective of this overtime is to increase the number of stop searches across GD without impacting on other areas of business - in this regard NIL returns are not acceptable under any circumstances."

One officer said: "This is deeply worrying. It is illegal and unethical to target stop searches and say negative returns are unacceptable."

MSP Graeme Pearson, Labour Justice spokesman, said: "The question is whether the content of this email reflects the intention of the chief constable or whether his intentions are being misinterpreted. Stop searches should be intelligence-led and only undertaken with probable cause. Without that they are not legal.

"It is an issue of human rights and civil liberties. We don't want to alienate a whole generation of young people who are constantly being stop searched just to keep statistics up.

"There is an explanation needed from the chief constable to clarify this."

Chief Superintendent David O'Connor QPM, President of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), said: "The public should be free to go about their lawful business with the minimum of interference by police.

"Stop and search is an effective tool only if properly used with defined outcomes. It is essential that the outcomes from using police stop-and-search powers are kept under regular review."

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson, Local Policing West, said: "The use of stop and search is one of a number of policing tactics we use to tackle serious violent crime and keep people safe. As a single policing service and to ensure a consistent approach across the country, guidance has been provided to officers regarding the approach to ensure they have the right information and support to enable them to carry out searches within the legislative and ethical framework.

"An internal email sent to a small number of local policing teams was a genuine misunderstanding and misleading in its interpretation of the approach and was immediately corrected. Stop and search must be used on an intelligence and analysis-led basis and in an ethical manner."