Call for review over Police Scotland strip searches of women

Police Scotland figures on strip searches of women have been described as “alarming” and prompted calls for police chiefs to investigate.

An analysis by The Ferret of Police Scotland stop and search data found that more women were strip searched outside a police station than inside a police station. The reverse was true for men.

For all types of search, the detection rate – where the person being searched was found to be hiding something of interest to the police – was found to be lower among women than it was for men.

An academic expert on stop and search, Dr Kath Murray, said that the data suggested that the “threshold for suspicion” that could trigger a strip search by police officers appeared to be lower for women than for men.

“The use of strip search should be proportionate, fair and effective. This means searches should be justified, and based on reasonable suspicion,” Murray said.

“The differences in both location and detection rates between sexes suggests that the threshold of suspicion may be lower for women, compared to men. It is not however possible to draw a clear explanation from the data and Police Scotland should investigate these differences further.”

The data shows that when men were strip searched outside a police station, the police got a positive result in 49 per cent of cases. But only 39 per cent of strip searches conducted on women outside a police station yielded a positive result.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, said: “This is deeply alarming and deserves a full explanation from the Justice Secretary and the Chief Constable.

“We must make sure that police are properly resourced and that the circumstances of any search are appropriate, informed and alert to the suspect’s vulnerabilities.”

Scottish Greens justice spokesperson, John Finnie MSP, called for a review of current practices to ensure that Police Scotland were applying their standards fairly.

He said: “The use of strip-searching should always be proportionate and based on reasonable concerns about the concealing of illegal materials. But these figures are likely to raise concerns among the public so I would encourage Police Scotland to review current practices to ensure that the reasonable test is being followed.”

The Scottish Government published a code of practice governing stop and search in 2017, after public concern mounted over the number of people being searched without a legal basis. The code says that a “constable carrying out a strip search must be the same sex as the detainee.”

Police Scotland have been publishing data on stop and search since 2015.

The latest figures for the first half of this financial year show that six women aged 18 or under were subject to strip searches outside a police station. A further four women aged 18 or less were strip searched inside a police station.

Chief Inspector Lyn Ross from the Specialist Crime Division said: “Intelligence-led stop and search is a valuable and effective policing tactic when used in the right place, at the right time toward the right people and contributes to the prevention, investigation and detection of crime whilst at the same time keeping people safe and improving community well-being.

“Police Scotland recognise that stopping and searching members of the public is a significant intrusion into their personal liberty and privacy and is committed to ensuring that all stop and search activity is carried out in a lawful, proportionate, justifiable and accountable manner.

“Whilst carrying out a stop and search, officers will treat members of the public in keeping with Police Scotland’s core values of fairness, integrity and respect. Police Scotland will ensure that an individual’s rights are upheld in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equalities Act 2010.

“Police Scotland continue to monitor all search activity and proportionate use of the tactic and will continue to report information publicly through quarterly management information reports.”

Note: the charts in the post were updated on the day of publication to make the statistics easier to understand.

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