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Stop and search remains a hugely important police power for protecting the public, tackling crime and keeping our streets safe.

It must be used in a fair and effective way that supports public confidence and is independently scrutinised.

We do not underestimate the impact stop and search has on communities and individuals; we know that to maintain public confidence in its use, stop and search must be used in a fair, effective and professional manner.

We are a learning organisation and have invested over the last number of years in conducting and commissioning research to help us continuously improve on our policies and procedures in this area.

Over the last number of years the Police Service of Northern Ireland has:

  1. Set up a stop and search working group in November 2020 to offer scrutiny regarding the use of these powers on children and young people. This is made up of both statutory and voluntary bodies.
  2. Conducted an online survey specifically for young people to provide feedback on our use of stop and search. This was launched on the 30th of April 2021, closing on the 2nd of July 2021. On closure, the survey had been completed 3235 times. 
  3. Since the survey was carried out, the Police Service has:
  • Explored what changes need to be made (to Police Service of Northern Ireland systems) in order to make searches that involve young people, easier for supervisors to identify. 
  • Designed and implemented a new bodyworn video supervisor review guidance document, which outlines that there is an expectation that supervisors will review 100% of all stop and search encounters where they reasonably believe that the person searched was under the age of 18 (this has been made available to supervisors during February 2023). 
  • Designed and implemented a new stop and search dip sampling checklist for supervisors (this has been made available to supervisors during February 2023).  
  • Shared the survey results with district training and the development of suitable training is now underway. 
  • Engaged with five groups of young people (totalling 65) on the design of a bespoke stop and search information card.  
  • Developed and rolled out a new stop and search recording application to ensure that additional recording/safeguards are in place with regards to the strip searching of people under the age of 18 years. This update ensures the recording of whether or not an appropriate adult was present during the search, the reason for a strip search and the details of the authorising supervising officer.
  • Designed and launched internal guidance/information pages to assist both officers and supervisors regarding the use of stop and search powers. A supervisor guidance page has been included, which outlines dip sampling requirements regarding stop search encounters (currently the requirement is a minimum of 10% of all stop search encounters), the use of bodyworn video (which must be used during all stop search encounters) and instructions on how to feedback learning matters (discovered whilst dip sampling) to the policy department and instructions on how to report cases of serious wrong doing to professional standards for investigation. The pages also highlight that there must always be a legal basis for search.
  • Published the new stop and search service instruction.

Robust Governance

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has formed a Service Accountability Panel (SAP) from what was the Policing Powers Development Group (PPDG), in co-creation with a recently established External Reference Group (ERG) and which involves independent community scrutiny. ERG members continue to provide advice to the Police Service on the future development of policing tactics and policy. The SAP actively makes the wider Police Service accountable for the use of policing powers at a local level and the use of stop and search powers (amongst other items) are now tracked through the SAP, with findings made available to the Policing Board as required and regularly reported in to the Service’s Strategic Performance Board. 

SAP’s objectives include:

  1. Bring together wider public consultation where and when appropriate and to develop an external reference group for independent advice, guidance, share views and understanding.
  2. SAP working group to support the SAP Chair to ensure external accountability for the use of police powers.
  3. Provide a point of contact for the service on the use of police powers including liaising with and responding to recommendations made by oversight bodies.
  4. Monitor and evaluate the use of police powers to identify any adverse differential impact they may have with regards to equality.
  5. Support and hold to account policy leads in these areas to ensure police powers are being used fairly and impartially.
  6. Identify, communicate and seek to replicate internal and external good practice.
  7. Task research in relation to novel or contentious police powers.

Continuing a-PACE – Dr John Topping, Queen’s University

In 2018, a small-scale programme of work examining the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s stop and search procedures, was agreed and costed at £5,000. The overall aim of the research was to examine the use of stop and search from the perspective of Police Service of Northern Ireland officers as they progressed from the student officer development programme, through to deployment in districts over a twelve-month period. The research was centred specifically on PACE-type powers and did not examine issues related to the use of Justice and Security Act or Terrorism Act powers.

Out of the projected 26 student officers starting the student officer development programme in May 2018, approximately 12 were selected to participate in the research. This was done on a representative basis, including factors such as gender, age etc. and further balanced against districts to which new officers where to be deployed in order to capture urban / rural issues, along with the various environments in which they will be based.

Summary of key issues and recommendations:

  1. Police Service of Northern Ireland delivers high-quality practical stop and search training for student officers, but more attention to historical and contextual detail on use of the power would help inform officer understanding of the powers; 
  2. There exists a strong organisational culture in Police Service of Northern Ireland which enables and encourages the use of stop and search powers; 
  3. Internal monitoring and oversight of stop and search powers is overly focused on ‘volume’ by officers rather than outcomes or community impacts; 
  4. Bound up in the pressure to use stop and search, officers and supervisors have limited capacity to appreciate the community impact of the power; 
  5. Bar the present research, there exists virtually no ongoing, external challenge to the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s use of the powers, such as through Independent Advisory Groups; 
  6. Police Service of Northern Ireland need to revisit how PACE Code of Practice A, and more specifically the UNCRC, are actively applied and monitored as part of stop and search practice.

Download Continuing a-Pace Reports

Stop and Search survey for children and young people

As part of the work carried out by Stop and Search Working Group regarding children and young people (formed in November 2020), an online survey regarding stop and search was designed in conjunction with several external bodies and launched by the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the 30th of April 2021, closing on the 2nd of July 2021. On closure, the survey had been completed 3235 times. The survey was targeted at people between the ages of 11 and 18 years and was designed to find out how children and young people feel about stop and search and to give them an opportunity to share their experiences. 

Since the survey was carried out, the Police Service has accepted and is working on satisfying the following recommendations:

  • A pilot exercise to assess how much impact there would be on front line supervisors to review the bodyworn footage of all stop searches involving people under the age of 18. 
  • A checklist/guidance document for supervisors to refer to whilst dip sampling stop searches, which highlight these concerns as areas to focus on for learning/further investigation if serious wrongdoing is suspected.  
  • Instructions to ensure that bodyworn cameras are activated prior to interactions with young people, so that the entire encounter is captured and can be reviewed (along with any ensuing stop search activity) by a supervisor. 
  • Internal messaging conveying the thoughts and feelings of young people regarding stop and search (to increase officer awareness around these issues).
  • Survey results to help inform delivery of awareness training to officers. This training should also have a procedural element to include items such as informing young people why they are being stopped and searched/informing them what they are looking for. 
  • The continued development of a stop and search information card designed specifically for children/young people to specifically outline information on rights and procedure.
  • Provide external scrutiny panel members with access to samples of bodyworn video footage showing stop and search encounters and use of force incidents.

Stop and Search Survey Findings

View or download a summary on the findings of this research.