The PSNI is facing calls to review its stop and search powers for teenagers after a report showed young males from deprived areas feel they are treated less fairly.
Researchers at Queen’s University, Belfast found those who defined themselves as Catholic and republican were more likely to see stop and search as a form of unnecessary harassment than their Protestant counterparts.
There is no suggestion the police are using their powers differently based on religion, but the research suggests young people experience use of the power differently.
The research team asked a representative sample of 16 year olds across Northern Ireland about their experiences.
Around 30,000 under 18s were stopped by the PSNI between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
The research found the PSNI were using the powers more frequently but with lower arrest levels compared to other UK regions.
Dr John Topping and Dr Dirk Schubotz co-authored the report for Queen’s. Dr Topping said those from urban and more deprived areas had “significantly lower” perceptions and experiences of fairness in treatment by the PSNI.
He added that 16 year olds who defined themselves as Catholic and republican were “significantly more likely” to perceive stop and search more negatively than their Protestant counterparts and think of the PSNI more negatively when they were stopped and searched.
While it measured perception rather than reality, Dr Schubotz said he hoped the report would lead to a review of current practice.
Paula Rodgers from Include Youth called for an urgent review of stop and search powers on children and young people.
“Shockingly 90% of respondents said that no details of the stop and search were recorded on electronic devices and no receipt or record was provided, while 69% of those stopped and searched said they were given no clear reason why,” she said.
Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon questioned if police were giving young people the correct information, if they were using their powers correctly and if proper records were kept. SDLP north Belfast councillor Paul McCusker said more needed to be done to improve relations between the PSNI and young people.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said: “Our policing purpose is keeping people safe and we do this by policing with the community.
“PSNI is fully committed to ensuring the fair, effective and legitimate use of these powers and welcome the comments presented in the research. We are all too aware that stop and search powers have the potential to bring officers into conflict with young people and seek to take every opportunity to engage with young people to allow them to share their experiences.”