DENYING police the power to search children for alcohol could lead to an increase in crime.

The stark warning from the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), the body representing the force’s rank and file, came as the Government launched a consultation on what powers police should have to search young people and children for alcohol.

Last September, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced an end to non-statutory, or consensual, stop and searches of adults and children, after a critical report by John Scott QC recommended implementing a new code of practice.

Scott’s report suggested ending stop and search would not get in the way of police officers effectively carrying out their duties. His report also called for a consultation on whether a specific law should be created allowing searches of children under 18.

Launching the consultation, Matheson said it was important to get the right balance between combating crime and protecting human rights.

“The fact that stop and search has led to the seizures of dangerous weapons, drugs and stolen goods shows how it can be a valuable tool in combating crime. However, it is important that police get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of the individuals.”

The minister said he was keen to hear from young people who have experience of being stopped by the police.

Brian Docherty, chairman of the SPF, told The National that ending the ability of officers to effectively engage in policing by consent was illogical.

“The views of the SPF on the police use of search are well publicised,” Doherty said. “We consider removing the absolute unfettered ability of the public to co-operate with the police to be completely illogical and a hindrance to the effective prevention and detection of crime, as well an impediment to preventing harmful behaviours among young people.”

However, Tam Baillie, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, argued that bringing in a new stop-and-search power would not be effective.

He said: “There is no evidence that a new statutory power to search for alcohol would keep young people safer. The police already have seizure powers which are used in the vast majority of cases at present.”

The new code of practice was developed by an independent advisory group, chaired by Scott, and sets out guidance on how and when stop and search is used, and then how the search should be carried out. Once this code comes into force, the practice of non-statutory (or consensual) stop and search will end.

Dr Kath Murray, a criminal justice researcher based at Edinburgh University specialising in stop and search, said the data suggested police already had adequate powers to take alcohol off under-18s.

“The fact that most alcohol is detected using existing powers of seizure suggests that additional powers are unnecessary. Police Scotland has made good progress on stop and search. Recorded search numbers, as well as the proportion of non-statutory searches, have fallen, detection rates are up, and young people are less likely to be targeted. Still, a more constructive approach will need time to bed down, and an additional power of search seems unlikely to facilitate this direction. There is however, a good case for examining licensing, including the high proportion of off-sales outlets in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods, and the very low rate of licence refusals.”

The consultation will run until July 15.

The National View: Balance to be struck with use of stop and search