POLICE say their targeted searches are behind a dramatic fall in crime, but concerns have been raised that authorities are inching towards “a policy of officially endorsed harassment”.
The crackdown is likely to go nation-wide when Strathclyde boss Stephen House takes over the new national force.
ALMOST half a million people were stopped and searched last year by Scotlandâ€™s largest police force.
For the first time, more searches were carried out by Strathclyde Police than by the Met in London, which has four times the population.
The crackdown is likely to be duplicated across Scotland when Strathclyde chief constable Stephen House takes over as head of the new national force in April.
Civil liberties groups say the threefold rise in searches amounts to harassment â€“ but the force claim the tactic has seen crime fall dramatically.
Chief Superintendent Bob Hamilton said the policy was a major contributor to a drop of 4500 in the number of serious assaults in 2012.
And he insisted the searches were based on intelligence and targeting prolific offenders.
Hamilton said: â€œIt is very focused â€“ it is not random.
â€œIt is not about blanket-bombing an area but based on individuals and violent hotspots and directed towards the people who are causing the most significant threat.â€
Strathclyde launched a campaign against violence five years ago and were the only force to see a significant drop in crime in that period.
Of the 493,000 searches carried out by the force last year, 69,000 resulted in the recovery of a weapon, stolen property or drugs.
Hamilton said: â€œThe key part for us is the reduction in violent crime, which would indicate to us that we are getting it right.â€
Using a statistical formula pulled together by analysts, the force worked out the most violent streets and created a league table of offenders â€“ resulting in a 50 per cent decrease in recorded violent crime in Glasgow city centre.
Since 2008,when House took charge, there has been a 75 per cent drop in teenage knife-carrying.
And last year, violent crime fell by 25 per cent, murders by 22 per cent and serious assaults by a third.
The major focus has been on gangs, with members picked out based on how recently they have offended, how frequently and how serious the offences were.
In Strathclyde, knife crime has been a top priority and intelligence gathering has been tailored to help.
Hamilton said: â€œWe changed our focus to make sure informants are reporting whatâ€™s important â€“ violence and weapon-carriers.â€
Now officers are briefed every day on individuals who could potentially be carrying weapons and drugs.
Hamilton said: â€œSometimes we go to their door and tell them not to carry a knife but a lot of the time, the searches are done on patrol.
â€œWe also go to the violence hotspots and where we know the worst offenders frequent.
â€œWe make sure they know that they canâ€™t carry a weapon and get away with it.
â€œIf we have intelligence that a person carries a knife, the public expect the police to stop and search them to make sure they arenâ€™t carrying.â€
But civil rights campaigner Richard Haley said: â€œPolice may use powers of stop and search in marginal situations that are getting very close to a blanket stop and search â€“ a policy of officially endorsed harassment.â€
Strathclyde Police stop and search numbers outstrip London as civil liberties groups warn of harassment
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