POLICE Scotland’s controversial use of so-called “consensual” stop and search could end in May, if MSPs back a new code of conduct.
If adopted, officers will only be allowed to pat down people when they have “reasonable suspicion” to do so.
The changes are part of a new set of rules for police drawn up following outrage over both the sheer number of searches that are being carried out by the Scottish force, and the revelation that hundreds of children under the age of 12 had been targeted.
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Ministers asked John Scott QC to draft the new rules on the practice in general, and also to look specifically at how police should deal with under 18s.
Yesterday Scott’s proposals were broadly welcomed by the government and the police.
The QC’s code says officers cannot carry out a stop and search “in a manner that is abusive, discriminatory, or which amounts to harassment or intimidation,” and that the person being searched understands why they are being patted down.
For police to carry out the statutory search there must be suspicion the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime, or the person is in possession of a prohibited item.
Police are warned off making that suspicion based on the person’s physical appearance, clothing, “generalisations or stereotypical images” or past criminal record.
On children, police are told be mindful of the power balance between them and the child.
They are again told not to carry out a search if the suspected young person “lacks the capacity to understand why a search may be necessary, or what a search may entail”.
The code adds: “Consideration should then be made of how best to safeguard that child or young person, where it is believed that child or young person continues to be at risk of harm.”
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “This new code is about finding that balance and maintaining the trust between the police and the public.
“People’s views about when and how stop-and-search should be used have been integral to the shaping of the new code.
“With this new code we will ensure stop-and-search is carried out with the fairness, integrity, respect and accountability that we expect from our police officers in all of their duties.”
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “Police Scotland has made real progress in relation to its use of stop and search.
“We very much welcome the introduction of the code.
“We are currently training all our officers in advance of its introduction to ensure that we are fully prepared.”