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How social media can take some of the friction out of Stop and Search

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Stop and Search

Stop and search has always been a controversial issue in British policing and a point of friction between police and, in particular, the Black and Minority Ethnic communities they serve.

Indeed several commentators cited it as a potential contributory factor to the 2011 riots.

Last week the Young Foundation published an interesting report on the results from a series of workshops they ran with young people and the police in North London on both parties’ experiences of Stop and Search and how they could be improved.

Breaking down barriers

The researchers found that, although young people’s and police officers’ perceptions of Stop and Search were unsurprisingly at odds with each other, the simple process of talking through real-life scenarios together allowed them to view difficult issues from different perspectives.

Bringing young people and the police together around a table proved effective.

The researchers reported that before the workshops even started, participants were finding common ground, discussing music, police horses, even officers’ own experiences of being stopped and searched.

Many young people were talking to plain clothes officers without realising they were police officers.

One young person commented:

“Now I understand that police [officers] are people too”.–Responsibilities/1400007411885/1400007411885



Unsurprisingly, improvements in communication were seen as key:

“Police officers should avoid making assumptions, be transparent, act considerately and remember they are in a position of power. At the same time, both officers and young people need to be respectful and act responsibly to ensure stop and searches run smoothly and young people don’t feel targeted and humiliated.”

But key to improving communication in the real world was the need for young people and the police to have more interaction in non-conflict situations.

One recommendation was the use of social media to create a safe and creative space for young people and police to interact.

I was reminded of a recent post by Mark Walsh, (@hantsyotcop) a police officer attached to a Hampshire Youth Offending Team who said that he’d had far more interaction and messages from young people interesting in joining the police on Twitter in 7 months then he’d had come up to him in the streets in 7 years.

A recent study on European Police forces’ use of social media found Twitter in particular had improved police-public relations.

The fact that police typically tweet about day to day issues and (to a limited extent) their own lives, as well as policing operations, revealed their human side and was key in breaking down stereotypes.

As we all know, stereotypes are one of the largest barriers to effective communication.

It’s also possible for police services to initiate online discussions of Stop and Search as both the Met and Nottingham police  have done recently via webchats.


If you know of other examples of police using social media or online activities around Stop and Search, please share them via the comments section below.




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Big fall in Stop and Search

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One Response

  1. Hi,
    I am studying for an MA in community cohesion management at Coventry University. My final research and dissertation is focussed on the impact of stop and search upon police-community relationships.

    I am trying to ensure the findings of my research are as representative of those affected by the use of these powers as possible, particularly in terms of age and race. I would be most grateful therefore if you would consider sending out these links to an anonymous online survey or to as many of your contacts as possible.

    The finding of the research will be used to inform policing strategy and hopefully deliver a service that is as supportive of communities as possible.

    Many thanks for you help

    Matt Markham

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