PSNI urged to reconsider use of stop and search on under-18s

THE PSNI has used stop and search powers on under-18s nearly 25,000 times in the last five years, the vast majority of which do not result in any further action.

A Detail Data investigation has found that between April 1, 2011 and March 31, 2016 a total of 23,323 operations were conducted that did not result in arrest - including 59 incidents involving children aged 10 and under.

The Police Ombudsman’s Office, which has received 370 complaints relating to stop and search over the last five years, said it hopes to launch an initiative in the coming weeks to address the concerns of young people which it says: “Come up time and time again."

In response, the PSNI defended the high use and low arrest rate arising from the tactic, stating that it is deployed with the aspiration of “Keeping people safe” and that “The PSNI is not out to criminalise young people and are open to other forms of disposal. There is no restriction in law preventing the stop and search of under 18s therefore police officers will use their powers under stop and search when they have reasonable grounds to suspect an item is being carried to keep both that individual and the wider community safe,” a police spokesperson said. We try to provide interventions to keep people out of the criminal justice system, to prevent them getting a criminal record which will have massive impacts on their future perspectives.”

Despite this rationale, the findings have prompted fresh calls from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People (NICCY) and rights based charity Include Youth for a re-evaluation of the use of stop and search on under-18s and greater transparency in relation to why, where and on whom it is used.


  • More than 160,000 people, of all ages, were stopped and searched in the last five years. This resulted in an arrest rate of less than 7%.
  • Of the near 150,000 incidents that did not result in arrest, more than 23,000 were conducted on under-18s. This included nearly 60 on children aged 10 and under.
  • Drugs and related paraphernalia were recovered in more than 1,000 searches on under-18s. This included the discovery of cannabis on a child aged 1-5 in 2013.
  • A total of 780 under-18s were arrested in the last three years as a result of stop and search.
  • The Police Ombudsman has received 370 complaints relating to stop and search in this period. In just one case was an officer found to have behaved improperly.

Previously the under-18 stop and search data had been collated in a single age category. However, in the data file provided to Detail Data this section had been further broken down in to four units. This revealed that there were 11 incidents with children aged 1-5; 48 on children aged 6-10; 3,880 on children aged 11-14 and 19,384 on young people aged 15-17.


Number of stop and searches in which no further action is taken

1-5 years


6-10 years


11-14 years


15-17 years


18-25 years


26-35 years


36-45 years


46-55 years


56-55 years


65+ years






Analysis of the data provided reveals that drugs and associated paraphernalia (eg, syringes, bongs, grinders, deal bags) were recorded in more than 1,000 of the searches on under-18s. This included the discovery of cannabis and cash on a child aged 1-5 in April 2013.

Although the PSNI did not provide arrest information, analysis of data published on its website, when viewed in conjunction with the information provided to Detail Data, reveals that in the last three years (2013/14, 14/15 and 15/16) a total of 14,671 under-18s have been stopped and searched with 780 subsequently arrested. This represents an arrest rate of 5.3%.

For the full story click here

To view the data behind this story click here

Share your COVID-19 support service

Organisations providing support to people and communities during the COVID-19 emergency can share their service information here

> Share your support

Not a NICVA member yet?

Save time, money and energy. Join NICVA and you’ll be connecting in to a strong network of local organisations focused on voluntary and community activity.

Join Us

NICVA now welcomes all small groups for free.

Read more on...