The ‘usual suspects’? Young people’s experiences of police stop and search powers in Northern Ireland

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The ability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to stop and search citizens remains as a long-standing power. Setting aside security-related stop and searches, these ‘everyday’ powers are governed primarily under the Police and Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1989 (PACE) and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA), and account for the majority of police stop and searches in the country. While identical powers in England and Wales have attracted controversy for over 30 years (Bradford, 2017), debates around their use have remained conspicuous by their absence from academic or policy debate in Northern Ireland. It is of note that PSNI’s use of stop and search between 2004/5-2015/16 increased by 74%, with PSNI using these ‘everyday’ powers at a rate of 13 per 1000 of population with a 6% arrest rate compared to 5 per 1000 and a 17% arrest rate in England and Wales. But particularly for children, it is only since 2017 that age-related stop and search figures have been publicly available, with approximately 28,000 uses of stop and search powers against children over the past six years (Topping, 2017). It is particularly 15-17 year old males who exist as the primary focal point of PSNI stop and search attention, subject to stop and search at a rate of 82 per 1000 – or four times higher their numbers relative to population.
The 2017 YLT provides for the first time in PSNI’s history, a comprehensive dataset related to 16 year olds and their attitudes and experiences of stop and search practice. While over a decade of research in the country has pointed to the fact stop and search exists a critical, negative juncture for young people’s interactions with PSNI more generally, the current survey was designed to elicit understanding of stop and search practice from the perspective of children directly. Given the recent, significant reforms to stop and search practices in England, Wales and Scotland (Bradford, 2017), this survey represents not only a timely analysis, but a window into the legal and procedural propriety with which the power is being used against children by PSNI. Furthermore, with the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) having been in receipt of age-related stop and search figures since 2011 (NIPB, 2013), this survey speaks to wider issues of the extent to which PSNI are held to account for use of the power against children.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBelfast
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Event2017 KLT and YLT Results - Queen's University, Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 May 201823 May 2018

Publication series

NameArk Young Life and Times Survey 2018


  • Policing
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • Stop and search
  • police powers
  • police practice
  • children
  • Children's Rights
  • class
  • religion
  • protestant
  • catholic
  • loyalist
  • republican


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