The findings are contained in a report released yesterday, examining the answers which 16-year-olds gave when asked questions about their attitudes towards the PSNI.
The report is the work of academics Dr John Topping and Dr Dirk Schubotz from Queen’s University Belfast, and is described as being “the first of its kind for policing in Northern Ireland”.
It concluded that “lower perceptions and experiences of fairness in treatment by the PSNI [are] particularly concentrated in more disadvantaged Catholic and self-defined republican areas”, and that “16-year-olds who defined themselves as Catholic and republican were significantly more likely to perceive PSNI stop-and-search as a form of unnecessary harassment”.
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After the publication yesterday, both the SDLP and Sinn Fein voiced concern about the results (though neither party specifically mentioned the findings about Catholics and republicans).
Among the figures to emerge in the report were:
62% of respondents living in mainly loyalist areas agreed that young people were treated fairly by the police, but only 40% of respondents who lived in mainly republican areas agreed
Looking at respondents from what the report calls “not-well-off” backgrounds, 37% of Catholics in this category believe police treated young people in their area fairly, compared with 61% of Protestants in the same category
37% of Catholic respondents and 43% of republican respondents felt stop-and-search encounters made them think more negatively of the PSNI, compared to 27% of Protestant respondents and 25% of loyalist respondents
Overall, 54% of respondents agreed that young people are treated fairly by the PSNI, 14% disagreed, whilst 24% neither agreed nor disagreed.
In conclusion, it said stop-and-searches have “a significant, negative impact”, especially on Catholics and republicans – but this does not necessarily mean these powers are “being used disproportionately or at different rates across religious lines”.
Queen’s said 1,200 16-year-olds were surveyed in 2017 as part of the report.
Of them, 60% were female, 39% were male, and 1% “had another gender identity”.
In all, 40% were Catholic, 28% Protestant, 30% indicated that they belonged to no religion, and 1% belonged to a different religion.
One-in-10 of the respondents said they had been stopped-and-searched at least once in the preceding year.