YOUNG people are more likely to be stopped and searched, figures released by Wiltshire Police show.

The most common age group held to account across Swindon and Wiltshire is 18 to 25 year olds. They accounted for 50 per cent of the total number in the first three months of 2012.

The figure represented an increase of 0.7 per cent on the previous quarter. Black people were six times more likely to be stopped than other ethnic groups.

However, 3,920 stop searches were recorded during the 2011 to 2012 financial year compared to 4,746 the year before – an overall reduction of 17 per cent.

Police made a total of 455 arrests as a result.

Temporary Chief Insp Roger Bull, who is the force tactical lead on stop and search, said: “Half of those stopped and searched are aged between 18 and 25.

“This reflects the age group of people most often involved in acquisitive crime, such as shoplifting, theft of bikes and robbery.

"This age group is also most active when it comes to the use of illegal drugs.”

Stop and search tactics have come under criticism in other parts of the country for turning young people and members of ethnic groups againt police, with some groups claiming they were an aggravating feature behind the London riots.

But Chief Insp Bull defended the use of the powers by Wiltshire Police, which has been pursuing targeted operations, particularly against drug dealers.

He said: “The use of stop and search powers allows the police to tackle crime and anti social behaviour, and to prevent more serious crimes.

“The police view remains that stop and search is a powerful weapon in the fight against crime.

"But it needs to be effective, targeted and, as far as possible, intelligence-based.

“Therefore, the police service locally and nationally has worked with partners over many years to address these community concerns.”

Drugs were the main reason why people were stopped and searched, with 2,382 people held to account – of which more than 1,000 took place in Swindon.

Chief Insp Bull said: “Op Atlantic is targeting drug dealers from London and Bristol attempting to spread into Swindon and Chippenham.

"We are monitoring their activities using intelligence generated locally and from other forces. This leads to a targeted stop and search.”