POLICE have defended the use of stop and search after shock new figures revealed only a handful of cases in Wigan resulted in formal charges.
Greater Manchester Police officers used the practice 1,200 times in the borough in 2014-15, yet only five people were brought before the courts as a result.
A total of 118 people were arrested in the same 12-month period, with the reasons for stop and searches ranging from criminal damage and carrying guns to officer suspicions about stolen property.
But the figures, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, also reveal GMP is reducing its use of the technique, with the 2014-15 figure notably down on the 2,648 stop and searches in 2013-14 and 1,622 in 2012-13.
GMP defended the use of the technique and reassured residents it was being used responsibly and in areas with the most severe law and order problems.
Insp Phil James said: “We use stop and search in Wigan as a preventative crime fighting tool in areas of high crime.
“They are used in conjunction with crime and offender analysis, in order to establish whether or not someone has committed or is about to commit a crime, so that we can best safeguard our communities.”
The figures reveal in previous years only a small percentage of cases of stop and search have ended in court appearances, with 70 people being formally charged in 2013-14 and 111 in 2012-13.
There were 161 arrests in Wigan following stop and search incidents in 2013-14 and 120 the year before. The data also reveals the most common reason for officers halting someone on the street was drug-related offences, with 552 stop and searches in 2014-15 and an enormous 987 incidents the previous year.
Other common reasons were stopping people going equipped with items to commit crimes, with 652 in 2013-14 and 178 in 2014-15 and in relation to stolen property investigations, with 818 and 362 in the same periods. Further pretexts included criminal damage and carrying guns or other offensive weapons. GMP also listed stop and searches carried out for reasons described only as “other”, with 12 incidents in 2014-15, and ones where the purpose was not recorded.
Some political activists in the borough criticised the force’s use of stop and search, saying the low numbers of people ending up in court cast doubt on the usefulness of the technique and calling for the Police and Crime Commissioner to look into it.
Will Patterson, chairman of the Wigan and Leigh Green Party, said: “Stop and search is a power that needs to be used responsibly, effectively and sparingly. While we welcome the fall in stop and search cases from last year’s excessive figures, we’re concerned that GMP don’t record how many cases lead to cautions, and we’re appalled that only five of the 1,200 cases led to formal charges, showing that this costly, intrusive process is still overused.
“We’re also disturbed at the 15 cases where no reason for the action was recorded: 15 cases is 15 too many. This is a broad-ranging power and it’s vital that its use can be accounted for.
“As PCC and interim mayor, Tony Lloyd needs to act now, to ensure that we can see the reason and outcome of every case. This is meant to be a public safety measure and the gaps in GMP’s figures and lack of formal charges being brought do not inspire public confidence that it’s being used wisely.”