Now you see it, now you don’t: On the (in)visibility of police stop and search in Northern Ireland

John Topping*, Ben Bradford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Police stop and search practices have been subject to voluminous debate for over forty years in the United Kingdom. Yet critical debate related to the use of ‘everyday’ stop and search powers by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has, despite the hyper-accountable policing system of Northern Ireland, been marked by its absence. This paper presents the first ever analysis of PSNI’s use of PACE-type powers - currently used at a higher rate and with poorer outcomes compared to the rest of the U.K. While it can only be considered as an elusive power, about which detailed research evidence is markedly lacking, stop and search in Northern Ireland seems to serve as a classificatory tool for PSNI to control mainly young, socio-economically marginal male populations. The paper provides new theoretical insight into stop and search as a simultaneous overt and covert practice, and speaks to wider issues of mundane police power – and practice – within highly contested and politically fractured contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCriminology and Criminal Justice
Early online date12 Sep 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 12 Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

John Topping is a lecturer in criminology at Queen’s University, Belfast and Fellow of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. His research interests centre around police reform, practice, and accountability, along with stop and search and public order policing. He has over a decade of research and consultancy experiences with all the policing institutions in Northern Ireland and is currently Chairperson of Community Restorative Justice Ireland.

Ben Bradford is Director of the Institute for Global City Policing at the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science. His research interests include procedural justice theory, public trust, and police legitimacy. His book, Stop and Search and Police Legitimacy, was published in 2017; he is also editor, along with Beatrice Jauregui, Ian Loader and Jonny Steinberg, of the SAGE Handbook of Global Policing (2016).


  • policing
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • Stop and search
  • social control
  • Children's Rights
  • police powers
  • police practice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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