More than 2,000 children in St Helens were stopped and searched by police over the past three years, the Reporter can reveal.
However, figures obtained by this newspaper reveal a massive downturn in the use of the controversial powers during the same period.Police chiefs today said stricter guidelines over its use and more intelligence-led policing had combined to produce a decline in the use of stop and search.
Our overall stop and search figures in St Helens have fallen by a third (between 2013 and 2014) and the number of under 12s stopped was already low but has still fallen by 60 per cent.Chief Supt Julie Cook
St Helens area commander, Chief Supt Julie Cooke said: “Merseyside Police recognises the importance of officers using their policing powers in a proportionate, justified and measured way and our stop search figures reflect that.”
Stop and search was used 732 times on under 18s in 2012, rising to 830 the following year. But by last year that figure had fallen to 569.
Police have the power to stop and search any member of the public they suspect of being involved in crime or disorder. They have the power to stop and search anyone if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is carrying illegal drugs, a weapon or stolen property. The biggest reason cited by officers for stopping under 18s is to investigate suspected crime or anti-social behaviour, with this accounting for 1,260 stop and searches.
Other reasons given include suspected traffic offences, checking warrant and bail conditions, following up intelligence reports, welfare check-ups and pre-planned police operations.
By far the biggest year group stopped was 16 and 17-year-olds, but a surprising number of under 12s were also stopped and searched.
Seventeen under 12s were stopped over the three-year period in St Helens, although their exact ages were not revealed. Eight were stopped in 2012, six in 2013 and just three in 2014.
Chief Supt Cook added: “Our overall stop and search figures in St Helens have fallen by a third (between 2013 and 2014) and the number of under 12s stopped was already low but has still fallen by 60 per cent.
“Stop and search remains a useful tool for preventing and detecting crime and keeping communities safe but it is just one of many and new, stricter guidelines on how it should be used have been in place for some time.
“The focus now is on intelligence-led stop searches so that people we suspect of wrongdoing get the police attention but those that simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time do not.
“Frontline officers are also held to account a lot more about their use of stop search and as a whole, the force aims to be more transparent in its approach.
“This is really important if we are to use the positive results of stop and search to build community confidence in the police rather than the misuse of these powers actually damaging that confidence.”
Police powers to stop and search members of the public largely come from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Police Act 1996. Members of the public can only be stopped and searched without reasonable grounds with the approval of a senior officer if there is a suspicion a serious or violent crime is about to take place.