There has been a lot of heat and not a lot of light in the debate over Police stop and search tactics.

Just how much we have been in the dark became clear with the admission by Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House that recorded figures have overstated the number of true stop and searches by several hundred thousand a year.

Mr House believes the force is being 'damned' for going further than other forces in the UK and other countries in recording the way officers interact with citizens.

It is worth considering how we got here. Critics claim, with some justification, that an undeclared and still-denied culture of targets has led police officers into a large number of interactions with the public, which have then been recorded as stop and searches.

Now the police are criticised for the impression given that hundreds of thousands of citizens, many of them young people, have been subjected to intrusive encounters. By overusing what can be a useful tactic, the police now seem likely to lose it, with a review mooted of the use of 'consensual' stop and searches, while Police Scotland and the Scottish Government have both already stated they will come to an end.

Yet the political row over stop and search is now in danger of obscuring a more important issue. What really counts is the quality of interactions police have with the public, and what happens next. This applies especially to young people who are putting themselves at risk, as well as potentially causing problems in their community. Are the young people subjected to successful searches signposted to appropriate sources of help or intervention?

The clearest example is a teenager drinking in a public park. Other examples would be an underage youngster searched for so-called legal highs, or cigarettes.

If a 14 year old has obtained alcohol, it is in the child's interest and the public interest for police to find and remove that alcohol. In days past, a police officer who found a young person with alcohol might have confiscated it and marched them home to let their parents know. That remains a decent option. But it is unlikely, if the main goal is simply to record a stop and search, what is really achieved by that?

We should all be concerned if the police are exceeding their powers. But there are situations where it makes sense for police to ask for someone to submit to a voluntary search. If no crime has been committed, records are likely to be limited, but the records appear to have become the main story. This debate about numbers obscures the real issue.

The Scottish Police Authority has asked Mr House to examine what effect targets have had on this issue. There is a debate to be had about whether removing the option of 'consensual' searches will lead police into more confrontations with members of the public.

But we would all benefit far more by asking the police to explain - whether or not there are targets - what such searches really achieve, and how they can contribute to the effectiveness of the force.