Policing young people – use of stop and search for drugs and how feeling drunk affects the relationship

Police by Dave Pearson from Flickr

The Police Foundation have produced an interesting report about the policing of young adults, which has many echoes of the things we found in the focus group work that our youth advisors recently completed in London with a slightly younger age group.

The young people our youth advisors spoke to talked about the poor relationship between young people and the police, a point the Police Foundation report reiterates:

Negative stereotyping by young adults of police and vice versa leads to negative encounters and outcomes and can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Young adults resent yet another stop, and do not listen properly to the reasons given. Police know that some young adults are prolific offenders and may be carrying weapons, illegal drugs or stolen goods; so they see stopping and searching them as rational. It also allows them to do something. If nothing is found, this does not stop the police feeling suspicious next time; if something is found, it simply confirms their negative perceptions.

This struck home to me as I took a look again at the figures for stop and search for drugs in London.  As you’ll see over half of stop and search’s that took place in the capital in 2011 were for drugs, but relatively few arrests followed.  Indeed if I’ve done my maths right for every arrest for drugs 38 searches were carried out.

For those under 18 years over 126,000 were stopped by the police in that year, and whilst the data isn’t broken down as to the reason given we do have a breakdown of arrests; where the proportion for drugs is even smaller than it was for the overall population.

If we turn to look at the data that’s available for how young people are in contact with the police you’ll see that about a quarter said that they had been in touch with the police for one reason or another over the last year.  But those who had felt drunk in the last year appear to have been twice as likely to have had contact compared to those who hadn’t been drunk.  And that having felt drunk is correlated with feeling less positive about the police.

Our youth advisors are considering three recommendations which will be finalised over the next few months.  They are:

  • Police and trading standards should liaise more closely to enforce ID policies around alcohol sales.
  • There should be a more visible police presence in areas and at times where there is a high number of drinkers, drug users and drug dealers. 
  • Ways to increase and improve communication between young people and the police should be identified and put into practice, for example:
    • training;
    • close work with schools to enable Schools Liaison Officers to have more opportunities for positive communication with students;
    • improved relationships between local youth clubs and organisations and community police officers;
    • identification of ways to feed back to young people how the police are making their area safer for them.
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