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Youth voices on stop and search

Our teams of young people in Bristol, Cardiff and Wellingborough undertook research into young people's experiences of stop and search. Read about what they found in our new report

Over a 10-month period, StopWatch delivered an advocacy programme to young people in three areas, Bristol, Cardiff and Wellingborough in collaboration with local partners Black South West Network (Bristol) [deadlink] Race Equality First (Cardiff) [deadlink], and Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (Wellingborough). The varied programme kicked off with the groups designing and conducting their own research project. The specific issues addressed through the project were chosen independently by each group so that they reflected local priorities and interests but all aimed to explore and understand young people’s experiences of stop and search and their relationship with the police. In Bristol, the group chose to focus on police community relations; Cardiff looked at young people's understanding of their rights and traffic stops was the issue that the Wellingborough group was most passionate about. 

A sample of their findings are below but check out the executive summaries and full reports for more.

Key findings and recommendations from Bristol include;

  • The police do not understand the communities they serve; they fail to recognise cultural and language differences.
  • There is a lack of awareness about the impact of police actions on young people. The very act of searching an innocent young person is an intrusion into our dignity and sense of social value.
  • There is a poor relationship between police and communities experiencing the highest levels of stop and search, caused by a lack of engagement. Community groups would feel more inclined to engage and collaborate with police if they saw their recommendations taken on board.

Avon and Somerset Constabulary and the Police and Crime Commissioner should:

  • Commit to collaborate meaningfully with young people through a youth engagement policy.
  • Provide resources to independent community organisations and young people to deliver peer training for other young people to know their rights.
  • Provide opportunities for community members to monitor and evaluate police practices and to report these findings directly to the Chief Constable and PCC. A community organisation should be resourced to facilitate this involvement.

Key findings and recommendations from Cardiff include;

  • Only 40% of respondents who had been stopped and searched felt that the officers acted professionally and respectfully towards them, saying they were treated arrogantly and rudely. Participants did not feel they were given a good explanation of the reason for the search.
  • None of those who had been stopped and searched had been given a receipt by the police, with some not even knowing they were entitled to one.
  • Young people feel humiliated when stopped and searched in front of other people, feeling that police specifically pick them out from large groups. This maximises their embarrassment and resentment towards the police.

Recommendations from Cardiff:

  • The force should develop a better understanding of what constitutes “reasonable grounds for suspicion” and this should be applied consistently among officers.
  • There needs to be greater supervision around recording of stop and search, to ensure that all officers provide receipts to young people. The police should also make young people aware of the option to complain, and make it easier for them to file one if they need to, for example through a third party reporting system.
  • Police officers should try their best to conduct stop and search in a respectful way that bring minimal embarrassment to young people.

​Key findings and recommendations from Wellingborough include;

  • 19.8% (9) of respondents who are black (African and Caribbean) had been stopped and searched with their car and 10.4% (5) of dual heritage respondents, compared to 8.5% (4) of white respondents and 3.8% (2) of Asian respondents. This illustrates that traffic stops are a much more common experiences for respondents from the black community than from others.
  • Almost 24% of respondents were told by police officers that they did not need to provide a reason for stopping and then searching their car. This reflects the findings of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary[1] that over a quarter of stop and searches are unlawful.
  • 50% of respondents who had been stopped in their car report that this then escalated into a search, highlighting the frequency with which traffic stops lead to a search of vehicle or person. Despite the fact that section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is not an investigatory power but rather one that obliges people to stop for the police to ascertain whether there vehicle is road worthy.

Northamptonshire Police should:

  • Record and monitor section 163 traffic stops to ensure officers are using stop powers fairly and lawfully. Data should be made publicly available.
  • Reduce the number of vehicle stop and searches
  • Provide equality and discrimination training to officers that involves community members, as well as training on the distinct purposes and uses of powers to stop under the Road Traffic Act and the power to search an individual or vehicle.

Click below to download the complete report.

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