Here is where you're most likely to be 'stop and searched' by police in Lancashire

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Police have revealed the parts of Lancashire where people are most likely to be stopped and searched by officers.

Suspects have been searched under the blanket powers 415 times since April 2017, Lancashire Police said in a response to a Freedom of Information request by The Gazette.

Undated file image of a police officer

Undated file image of a police officer

While there were just 17 stop and searches in 2017 and 23 in 2018, there were 375 last year, as the force battled knife and violent crime across the county.

No arrests were made in either 2017 or 2018, with nine people held last year, the figures added.

STOP AND SEARCHES

Preston - 207

Skelmersdale - 137

Blackpool - 35

Fleetwood - 20

Nelson - 15

Ormskirk - 1

Lancashire Police said it does not have a specific policy for when its officers can carry out stop and searches, but said it "follows current legislation" and guidance from the College of Policing.

That guidance says only officers above the rank of chief superintendent can authorise the searches, which must only be done "where it is deemed necessary".

The public must be told about the orders, which can last no longer than 15 hours (but can be extended to 24) and must only be used when police "reasonably believe" a violent attack will happen - and not "may" happen - in a certain area, the guidance said.

However, the Home Office relaxed those rules in August 2019 amid the national knife crime crisis. Now, as part of a national pilot, inspectors and superintendents can deploy and extend section 60 orders, which can now be used if police believe a violent attack “may” happen - rather than “will”. The orders can now be in force from 15 hours to 24, and extended up to 48 hours.

When a section 60 order was put in place in Fleetwood last July following three linked incidents in 12 hours - a home invasion by machete-wielding men in Broadway, a gang of men with crowbars breaking into a caravan at Cala Gran, and an arson attack in Princes Way - Ch Insp Eric Halford said it gave police the "power to search people or vehicles without suspicion in an area where we believe violence could take place".

He added: "We also have the power to require the removal of face coverings or disguises. This should not overly concern people. It's not about targeting people, but it's about making sure we do all we can to keep people safe."

And in April last year, stop and search powers were used in Blackpool after a 28-year-old resort man was attacked by a gang of men with weapons in Talbot Road and Cookson Street.

In Preston, stop and search powers were used in Deepdale and Ribbleton after two rival teen gangs clashed with weapons last July, while they were also used in Burnley in August after a brawl involving 30 people and an axe.

The figures come after analysis by a national newspaper revealed that some parts of London had seen an increase in knife crime, despite the Metropolitan Police increasingly using and stop and search orders.

Blackpool Council's leader Simon Blackburn, who is on the government's serious violence taskforce, said last year: "I have heard from young people in some of our big cities, who have told me they are more frightened of being caught with a knife by opposition gang members than they are of being caught with a knife by the police.

"This spiral of gang- and drug-related violence can only be halted through a combination of education, peer pressure, and the provision of a sense of hope.

"Many of the young people involved have few, if any, qualifications; don't have much in the way of aspiration for the future; and are being identified as vulnerable by drug dealers into a life of crime."

Some 83 per cent of Gazette readers said they were concerned by knife crime after an investigation revealed that knife crime actually rose in the two weeks after a high-profile blade amnesty, compared to the fortnight running up to it.

Lancashire's police and crime commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, said previously: "Whilst these figures are concerning, they do not mean campaigns here in Lancashire and across the country do not play an important role in the battle against knife crime."

On its website, Lancashire Police said it puts section 60 orders in place for an initial 12 hours after getting the nod from a chief officers - or an inspector or above in "urgent" cases.

"We will keep the community informed of its purpose and outcomes by providing information on the police website and on local social media," it said.

"A section 60 is a proactive power used by the police to keep people safe and we urge communities to work with us and report any information."

In August last year, the Home Secretary Priti Patel said the pilot easing restrictions around emergency stop and search powers had been extended to all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

The scheme relaxes the voluntary conditions forces signed up to on the use of section 60, which were introduced in 2014 as part of the Best Use of Stop and Search Scheme (BUSSS).

The Home Office said the changes were “welcomed by officers and relatives of knife crime victims”, and added: “These section 60 powers are used in a targeted way by police when they anticipate violence in a particular area.

“They are used following stabbings, for example, to find weapons and prevent reprisal attacks.”

There were 202 arrests made after 2,501 searches in 2017/18, of which 71 were for weapons, the Home Office said.

The arrest rate for all types of stop and search was 17 per cent in 2017/18, the highest on record.

Dep Ch Con Adrian Hanstock, the National Police Chief Council’s stop and search boss, said: “The authority to stop and search people in appropriate circumstances is a necessary power that allows police officers to tackle violence in our communities and prevent people from becoming victims of crime.

“Every day officers across the country seize horrifying weapons and are preventing further injuries and deaths by using their search powers.

“Section 60 powers to stop and search anyone within a designated area can be extremely effective when there have been violent incidents and police commanders believe there is a high risk of further violence occurring.

“The extension of this pilot to all 43 police forces, and British Transport Police across the rail network, will help to reduce bureaucracy and allow officers to use Section 60 controls much faster when it is clear it is in the public interest to do so.”