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'Stop and search leaves profound impact on young people'

STOP AND search has garnered a lot of attention this year, with measures put in place to improve police practice by reducing the number of unnecessary searches, ensure proper recording and greater community engagement.

While unfairness, ethnic disproportionality and the wastefulness of resources are usually the focus of these discussions, what is less often highlighted are the wider consequences that stop and search can have on an individual, their sense of self and their personal relationships.

As part of Y-Stop, a project recently launched to support young people in dealing with stop and search, I and other members of the project, spent six months visiting youth groups across London, speaking with children and young people about their experiences with the police and how that makes them feel.

We realised that the impact of each stop and search goes much deeper than the interaction itself. It creates emotional baggage that young people carry long after the police officer has walked away from them. They talk about humiliation when other people from school see them being pulled aside by police, feeling like everybody who passes sees them as a criminal regardless of the outcome. They talk about the fear and anxiety they experience when older members of the community witness them being searched and they are scared that they will report it to their parents. They also expressed how they struggle to control the frustration and anger arising from a stop and search, managing to bottle it up but knowing and recognising it can come out at an entirely unexpected time.

One young person lamented the shutting down of his local boxing club, by funding cuts to youth services, that used to be his release mechanism. Trust, not just of the police, but of authority generally, suffers from stop and search and some distance themselves from teachers who try to get to know them better. Repeatedly being viewed as suspicious makes young people question themselves; what is it about them that warrants that perception?

Y-Stop are often contacted by parents who are concerned by the impact the stop and search has on their child, noting withdrawal and a loss of self-confidence as a result. Many refer to their own adolescent experiences with the police, hoping to protect their son or daughter from the same trauma. Their requests are simply for support in discussing the experience with their child and in equipping them with the knowledge to reduce the harm it brings about.

TERRIFIED

At the other end of the scale we also hear from young people who are terrified their parents may find out they are being stopped and searched, worried that this will be considered an indication they are up to ‘no good’, even though less than one in 10 end in an arrest. Their fear of being blamed and shamed leads them to throwing their stop and search receipts in the bin, or worse, not taking them from the officer in the first place in an attempt to ensure that they are never found at home.

Receipts are critical to holding police to account and should be provided by law, although we know how often they are not. They are a first port of call for securing legal advice and for making complaints. If neither officers nor young people are demanding this requirement is met, transparency and accountability mechanisms are left wide open for abuse.

As a result of these concerning and sometimes heart-breaking discussions, we have developed Y-Stop, a resource that reflects real experiences of stop and search. All of our tools and training have been developed by young people themselves so that it is relevant and engaging for those who most need it. Recognising the need to involve the wider community to support young people and limit the damage these negative police interactions might have, we are also developing a parents’ guide to stop and search and a resource for teachers too.

It is our hope that these will break the stigma of being stopped and searched, foster better understanding of the law and young people’s rights, as well as encourage young people to challenge unprofessional police behaviour where needed. The impact of stop and search has been profoundly felt from generation to generation, Y-Stop aims to be a vital tool in fighting back.

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Natasha Dhumma is the stop and search coordinator at Stopwatch, a coalition of campaign groups promoting fair and accountable policing

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