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PSNI carry out 14,000 stop and search ops in north-west - £55k compensation paid out

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Police carried out 14,000 stop and search operations in three years.

Police carried out 14,000 stop and search operations in three years.

Police carried out 14,000 stop and search operations in three years.

The PSNI has paid out almost £55,000 in compensation connected to stop-and-search operations in the north-west in the past four years.

Officers carried out more than 14,000 stop and searches in the Derry and Strabane policing district between January 2015 and December 2018 - an average of nine every day.

A total of £45,996 was paid in compensation in 2018.

In 2017 the figure was just £2,000, and a further £7,000 was paid out in 2016.

No compensation was paid out in 2015.

Police said the increase in payments between 2017 and 2018 was partly due to an increase in the number of claims processed and not an increase in the number of claims referring to that particular year.

The PSNI said claims could relate to stop and searches carried out in previous years.

Last year there were 2,975 stop and searches conducted by police. In 2017 the figure sat at 3,563 and in 2016 there were 4,089. In 2015 there were 3,766 stop and searches carried out.

The figures emerged after a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph.

DUP MLA and Policing Board member Gary Middleton said the compensation payments needed to be examined but stressed that stop and searches were an effective part of policing.

"Judging by the compensation, it does seem high," he added. "We have to make sure that where stop and searches are taking place, there's a clear evidence base or a clear need to do so.

"I know in the past it has worked in terms of stopping illegal activity, but we do need to look at the effectiveness.

"I would like to find out the detail about the compensation, the reasons for that and what it was for.

"If there were more than 14,000 searches over the last four years, we need to look at the results of those searches.

"I appreciate that every time you are not going to get a result that is positive in the sense that something has been prevented. We need to look at the outcomes of that. I will be requesting that information."

In the Freedom of Information answer, police pointed out that the figures referred to the total number of stop and searches and that the number of people involved may be lower because a number of individuals will have been subject to the procedure on more than one occasion.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan called on the police to consider if stop and searches were "really working".

Mr Durkan said "bombs are still going off and people are being shot in the street" despite the high number of stop and searches in the district.

"I have consistently raised the issue of what I deem to be an overuse of stop and search powers in this area," he added.

"I have been consistently told by police that they apply this power correctly and effectively. I have had people come to me who are stopped several times a week. It impacts on people's ability not just to go about their daily life, but also to earn a living, in some cases."

Mr Durkan said police should assess whether the method was "worth pursuing".

Superintendent Alan Hutton said the police had a duty to keep people safe and stop and search powers were an essential tool in their armoury.

"We are fully committed to ensuring the fair, effective and legitimate use of stop and search powers, which are vital in helping us to prevent, detect and investigate crime," he said.

"There are a number of different legislative powers in Northern Ireland under which people can be stopped and searched.

"These include the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) (Northern Ireland) Order, Misuse of Drugs Act, Firearms Order, Justice and Security Act and the Terrorism Act.

"We are mindful of the impact such powers have on the community and we seek to ensure all of our interactions are professional, respectful and courteous.

"Members of the public have a number of ways to voice their concerns about police actions.

"One is legal action, which can, in certain circumstances, result in the payment of compensation if a court upholds a complaint.

"The PSNI, however, continually reviews practice, training and the use of body-worn video during searches. There are processes in place to ensure stop and search powers are used effectively and proportionately.

"There is no doubt that stop and search is an extremely important power when used fairly, and we are listening to our communities and using stop and search powers to help tackle crime and build a safer society."

Belfast Telegraph