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.

#LDNprev conference

“Inspiring, interesting and informative”, the three words most used to describe Mentor’s youth advisors #LDNprev conference to discuss helping young Londoners to be safer when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

LYIP feedback

The conference included sessions on school drug and alcohol education, the skills that parents need to discuss these issues with their children, and on community safety.  These were based on research that our youth advisors had carried out with over 1,000 young people, experts, and policy makers and have been written up into three short papers published on our website.

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Police in England and Wales arrest a child every two and a half minutes

The Howard League for Penal Reform sent out a press release yesterday which points out that the police in England and Wales arrested a child every two and a half minutes last year.

But looking at the detail in the release what is clear is that there have been significantly fewer children being arrested than there were a few years ago.  In fact the numbers being arrested have fallen by a third in that time.

Child arrests in England and Wales 2009 - 11

The CEO of the Howard League, Frances Crook, argues:

Only a handful of children are involved in more serious incidents and they usually suffer from neglect, abuse or mental health issues.  A commitment to public safety means treating them as vulnerable children and making sure they get the help they need to mature into law-abiding citizens.

I thought this may be of interest to us because of the work we’re doing with Alcohol Concern about entry into the criminal justice system as a result of alcohol misuse in London.  The London figures (below) show a similar downward trend (if less pronounced) in the use of arrest.

Arrests in London 2008-11

What isn’t clear is what alternatives to arrest are being used by authorities to deal with those at risk of entering the criminal justice system, or whether there have been the sorts of drops in criminality that these figures suggest, or whether the changes to the performance management regime mean that the police are no longer incentivised to arrest young people.