Youth group 'concerned' about PSNI stop and searches carried out on young people
A Northern Ireland youth group has said the number of stop and searches carried out by the PSNI on young people is "concerning".
The comments follow the publication of new research by Queen's University.
Dr John Topping and Dr Dirk Schubotz, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s co-authored the report entitled: The usual suspects’? Young people’s experiences of police stop and search powers in Northern Ireland.
"Between 2010 and 2018, stop and search powers have been used approximately 30,000 times against children – under 18’s in Northern Ireland. The research found that the PSNI are using these everyday powers at an higher level and with lower arrest levels compared to England, Wales and Scotland,” said Dr Topping.
“From our research encompassing a representative sample of 16 year-olds from across Northern Ireland, we found that those from urban and more deprived areas had significantly lower perceptions and experiences of fairness in treatment by the PSNI, particularly concentrated in more disadvantaged Catholic and self-defined Republican areas.
“The data clearly demonstrates that 16 year-olds who defined themselves as Catholic and republican were significantly more likely to perceive PSNI stop and search as a form of unnecessary harassment than their Protestants counterparts and think of the PSNI more negatively when they were stopped and searched," Dr Topping added.
Include Youth spokesperson on youth justice, Paula Rodgers said that the majority of young people did not realise why they were being stopped and searched.
“This report represents the first independent analysis of how 16 year olds are experiencing stop and search powers being exercised by the PSNI," Mrs Rodgers said.
“The ARK Young Life and Times survey results certainly raise a number of issues concerning the socio-economic background of young people being stopped and how young people understand their rights under these powers.
“Shockingly 90% of respondents said that no details of the stop and search were recorded on electronic device and no receipt or record was provided, while 69% of those stopped and searched said they were given no clear reason why."
Mrs Rodgers said that there needed to be more transparency around the practice of police stopped and searching young people.
“In terms of accountable policing and the protections of the rights of young people this needs to change," she said.
“It is our belief that there is an urgent need for more monitoring and oversight of use of stop and search on children and young people. We will be raising this both with the PSNI and with other statutory and governmental agencies.”
Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said that the use of stop and searches had fallen substantially.
"Stop and search powers are available to the police to help protect communities in Northern Ireland. They are used to prevent, detect and investigate crime," she 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.
"The latest figures from the Young Life and Times Survey are based on the attitudes and experiences of a sample of 16 year olds in Northern Ireland and findings are therefore not comparable with official statistics collated by PSNI which show that the use of stop and search powers has fallen by 31% since 2010/11. During the period 2016/17 PSNI stopped and searched 2 under 18 year olds per 1000 of the overall population. The majority of stop and searches involving young people aged 17 and under relate to the Misuse of Drugs Act (63%) which is reflective of how the issue of drugs is a key concern for our communities. Drugs and anti social behaviour are issues that communities consistently tell us affect their lives and that are reflected in all Police and Community Safety Partnership local policing plans."
Assistant Chief Constable Gray said that police were not working to "criminalise young people".
"Police do not want to criminalise young people and arrest is not the only outcome of a stop and search - other methods of disposal include community resolution, caution, penalty notice for disorder or report to the PPS," she said.
"PSNI continually review practice and training and body worn video should be used during each search. There are processes in place to ensure stop and search powers are used effectively and proportionately. These include oversight from the NI Policing Board, OPONI, and regular meetings with children and young persons advocates."
"Stop and search is an extremely important power when used fairly and effectively and it should be noted that PSNI have counter terrorism powers not available to officers in the rest of the UK which will have an impact on the overall statistics."