MORE than 130 children under ten years old have been stopped and searched by police in West Yorkshire, a critical parliamentary inquiry has revealed.
And the force targeted more than 50,000 under 18s – more than a quarter of the total number stopped and searched – over a five-year period.
The figures were uncovered by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which said stop and search was being used “disproportionately on young people”.
It also raised the alarm over children being kept in police cells after arrest, alongside adults – causing “unnecessary harm and distress”.
In West Yorkshire, none of the force’s nine custody suites have separate facilities for children, the inquiry was told.
Baroness Massey of Darwen, the group’s chairman, said: “Many of these children will be in need of care and protection, possibly fleeing from sexual predators or gang violence.
“The police need to make sure that they don't see children as small adults and do more to ensure they always adopt an age appropriate response to every child.”
And Enver Solomon, of the National Children's Bureau (NCB), said: “Any child who comes into contact with the police should always be treated differently from an adult.
“For children who are at risk of exploitation, abuse or violence it is particularly important that the police know what steps to take to protect them and put their welfare first.”
The temporary Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police said it was sometimes necessary to stop and search children and young people in order to make “our communities safe and keep them feeling safer”.
Andy Battle added: “The power to stop and search, used in a sensitive and intelligence led way, is an effective tool which enables officers to gain crucial information to prevent and detect crime.
“It is vital however that these powers are used with professionalism and proportionality and we have independent scrutiny panels which look at stop search activity on a regular basis to assess how officers have used these powers and whether the use was both necessary and appropriate.
“The report recommends an annual review nationally by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary of the use of stop and search powers and we welcome this together with the learning that this would provide.
"On occasions where arrest and detention is considered to be the most suitable course of action for a child or young person, we work, when it is appropriate, with parents, carers and other professionals in the best interests of the child or young person. This supports their safeguarding, enabling officers to signpost them, whenever possible, to other support and assistance that may be available to them.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said it would consider the report’s recommendations, but defended its practices.
Commander Adrian Hanstock said: “Children are often stopped because of intelligence that they are being exploited by adults, including gang members, to carry drugs, weapons or get involved in other criminal activity.
"Stop and search that is intelligence-led, proportionate and carried out with professionalism and respect is an important tool in tackling crime especially knife, gun, gang crimes and terrorism.”
The inquiry found that, over the last five years 1,136 stop and searches were carried out on under 10s in 22 police force areas, including 133 in West Yorkshire.
And, between 2009 and 2013, more than one million stop and searches were carried out on children under the age of 18 across 26 forces.
West Yorkshire is among 20 forces that have no custody facilities where children and adults can be kept separately.
In contrast, all the other big metropolitan areas of England said 100 per cent of their suites gave them that ability.
Asst Chief Con Battle said: "West Yorkshire Police has recently opened new custody facilities in Leeds and Wakefield. These, together with the refurbished facilities in Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale meet or exceed the required Home Office standards, which do not require police custody areas to have separate facilities designated solely for children and young people. “The report recommends that new and further specific facilities are created for children and we would consider developing such facilities if the Home Office, having considered the report's recommendations, sees that this is the most appropriate way forward."