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Publication - Consultation Responses

Consultation on Police Powers to Search Children and Young People for Alcohol: Analysis of Responses

Published: 4 Nov 2016
Part of:
Children and families, Law and order
ISBN:
9781786525698

Analysis of consultation responses received.

38 page PDF

769.9kB

38 page PDF

769.9kB

Contents
Consultation on Police Powers to Search Children and Young People for Alcohol: Analysis of Responses
3 Views on a new police power to search children and young people for alcohol (Q1)

38 page PDF

769.9kB

3 Views on a new police power to search children and young people for alcohol (Q1)

3.1 This chapter presents the views of respondents on a possible new power for the police to stop and search a child or young person for alcohol. The chapter presents the analysis of Question 1, a tick-box question:

Question 1: Do you think that a new power for the police to search a child or young person for alcohol as outlined in Part 1 of this consultation paper is an appropriate way to reduce risks to safety and wellbeing caused by possessing and consuming alcohol in public? (Yes / No)

3.2 The chapter also presents an analysis of comments on reasons for supporting or opposing such a new measure. The possible negative effects of such a new power for the police were the subject of a separate question (Question 2) and this issue is explored in more depth in Chapter 4.

Views on a new power to search children and young people

3.3 Altogether 115 respondents (87 individuals and 28 organisations) answered Question 1. Table 3.1 shows that, across respondents as a whole, views were mixed on whether a new power for the police to search a child or young person for alcohol was an appropriate way to reduce risks to safety and wellbeing caused by possessing and consuming alcohol in public - with 52% of respondents (60 out of 115 respondents) answering 'Yes', 43% answering 'No' and 4% answering 'Don't know'. A majority of third sector organisations, public sector bodies and 'other' organisations (75% or more), however, answered 'No' indicating that that they did not see such a new power as an appropriate way to reduce risks to children and young people.

Table 3.1: Q1 - Do you think that a new power for the police to search a child or young person for alcohol as outlined in Part 1 of this consultation paper is an appropriate way to reduce risks to safety and wellbeing caused by possessing and consuming alcohol in public?

Respondent type

Yes

No

Don't Know

Total

n

%

n

%

n

%

n

%

Individuals

51

59%

32

37%

4

5%

87

100%

Third sector organisations

2

20%

8

80%

0

0%

10

100%

Local authorities / partnership bodies

5

63%

2

25%

1

13%

8

100%

Public sector bodies

1

25%

3

75%

0

0%

4

100%

Other organisations

1

17%

5

83%

0

0%

6

100%

All organisations

9

32%

18

64%

1

4%

28

100%

All respondents

60

52%

50

43%

5

4%

115

100%

Percentages do not all total 100% due of rounding.

3.4 Alongside the responses to the closed question, an analysis of the qualitative comments indicated that there were similarly mixed views amongst the children and young people who took part in the consultation. [7]

3.5 Almost all of the respondents provided comments on this question. In addition, all of the reports of consultation activities with children and young people also included feedback relevant to this issue. [8]

3.6 In discussing their views, respondents generally did so in terms of support for or opposition to the possible new power - they did not focus specifically on whether such a new power represented 'an appropriate way to reduce risks to safety and wellbeing caused by possessing and consuming alcohol in public' as asked by Question 1. The chapter reflects this, and presents arguments in favour of a new police power, and arguments against.

3.7 It should be noted that respondents often indicated that this was a complex issue with valid arguments for and against, and support for or opposition to the power often rested on the weight attached to the different arguments.

Views of children and young people's organisations

3.8 Organisations with a particular focus on children and young people were, in the main, opposed to a new police power to stop and search for alcohol. National organisations with a children and young person remit were unanimously opposed to a new search power. In line with other respondents who opposed the power (see paragraphs 3.17 to 3.25 below), they emphasised: the lack of evidence to support the need for the new power, and the adequacy of existing police powers; the implications for children's rights; concern about how the power might be used; and the potential negative impact on relations between the police and young people. They generally favoured responding to under-age drinking as a wellbeing concern, and using a combination of preventative initiatives such as education and support, and measures to tackle retailing and purchasing issues. In contrast, smaller, locally based organisations offered support for the possible new power, but did not offer specific explanations for their views.

Views of organisations involved in policing

3.9 Those organisations with a direct interest or involvement in the delivery of policing and community safety made a number of points which reflected their particular perspective (i.e. their knowledge and experience of operational practices). They recognised that responding to under-age drinking in public places was a complex issue, and attached great importance to good practice and maintaining and building good relations with children and young people, but also noted the following in their comments:

  • That there were varying demands and expectations on the police in dealing with children and young people, and protecting them from harm
  • That the police needed a way of responding to under-age drinking and that the removal of consensual stop and search would represent a significant change in the options available
  • That the end of consensual stop and search could, potentially, change the dynamics in the relationship between the police and children and young people and result in more instances in which alcohol was not removed from children and young people
  • That there was a need to consider the impact that the absence of any stop and search power might have on wider community confidence in the police
  • That any requirements attached to any new power (e.g. a requirement for parents / carers to be informed of, or present at, a search) might impact on the effectiveness of the new power.

3.10 There were, though, divergent views amongst this group with regard to the overall question of support for a new power, with one organisation, for example, favouring the introduction of a new power, while another argued that any decision be delayed until after the new legislative framework for stop and search and associated Code of Practice had been introduced - a six-month bedding-in period was suggested.

Arguments in support of the introduction of a new power

3.11 Those expressing support for the new power generally thought it would deter children and young people from purchasing alcohol and carrying alcohol in public places, and would reduce under-age alcohol consumption. In so doing, it would reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm - poor health outcomes, poor personal choices, violence and anti-social behaviour, criminal activity, etc. Children and young people were amongst those offering such comments. Respondents saw public drinking - and drinking more generally - by young people as a problem, and thought that the police should have powers to deal with this. One individual said that this would allow the police 'to do their job properly'.

3.12 Respondents also thought a new power of stop and search would bring benefits for communities as a whole by reducing incidences of public drinking involving young people and of associated anti-social behaviour.

3.13 Less often, respondents also argued that such a power might usefully be extended to cover other substances or other environments (i.e. not just public places), or to other professions (teachers).

3.14 Some respondents who supported the introduction of a new power acknowledged that this would not be sufficient on its own to tackle under-age drinking. They did, though, think it could be part of the solution, or could help in reinforcing a message about the harm of under-age drinking. It was suggested that the police could use stop and search situations to provide advice and support on alcohol misuse to young people, or that there should be appropriate follow up with other agencies. A few respondents went further in suggesting that, if approached in the right way, a new stop and search power could have a positive impact on relations between the police and young people.

3.15 Respondents further argued that such a power:

  • Would be more effective than one based on consent
  • Would be required for operational reasons following removal of consensual stop and search
  • Would avoid reliance on police powers to seize alcohol, which left children and young people vulnerable to arrest should they refuse to cooperate
  • Was necessary in order to allow proper enforcement of laws relating to age-restriction on purchasing alcohol
  • Was logical, given existing powers to stop and search for other reasons.

3.16 A few respondents argued that such a power was needed in order to respond to public expectations that the police should take action in relation to under-age drinking and / or alcohol-related anti-social behaviour.

Arguments against the introduction of a new power

3.17 Those who did not support the introduction of a new power to stop and search children and young people for alcohol offered a wide range of often overlapping reasons for their views. As with those who supported the possible new power, respondents in this group recognised alcohol use and misuse by children and young people as a problem, and recognised the complexity of the issue but, in most cases, were firmly of the view that the introduction of a statutory stop and search power was not an appropriate or helpful response to this situation.

3.18 There were also, however, some respondents who saw both advantages and disadvantages to such a power but who, on balance, thought the 'risks would…outweigh the benefits for our young people'.

3.19 In explaining their views, respondents opposed to the new power - particularly organisations - often gave detailed responses to this question, drawing on statistical data, research and other evidence. Respondents commonly referred to Police Scotland and SALSUS (Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey) data, research carried out by academics (e.g. Deuchar and Miller; Lightowler et al.; Murray; Murray and McVie), and work undertaken by the World Health Organisation and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. (See Annex 4 for full details of cited evidence.)

3.20 The main themes identified in the responses are discussed in the following paragraphs.

3.21 There was a widespread view across all types of respondents that a new power to stop and search children and young people for alcohol would have a negative impact on police relations with individuals, young people in general and communities at large. Respondents were concerned that this would represent a backwards step, given recent (and reportedly successful) efforts to improve relations with young people. These respondents prioritised long-term trust and positive relations between the police and the community and thought this was more important than any minimal short-term gains which might be achieved. It was noted that the introduction of such a power into legislation to confiscate alcohol in England and Wales had previously been resisted for these reasons.

3.22 Views on the potential negative effects accruing from a new power of stop and search are discussed in more detail in Chapter 4. This was a key issue for individuals, including young people, but was also an argument that was put forward by organisational respondents.

3.23 Other main arguments put forward by those opposed to a new power - largely but not exclusively by organisational respondents - are summarised below:

3.24 Respondents argued that existing data did not indicate a 'legislative gap' which would need to be filled once consensual stop and search was removed as an option. Respondents cited Police Scotland data [9] on the use of existing consensual stop and search powers, and powers to seize alcohol from young people which showed that:

  • Most alcohol recovered by the police was surrendered rather than secured through stop and search
  • There was little evidence of children and young people not complying with requests to surrender alcohol
  • Alcohol was found in only around 10% of stop and search cases
  • The use of consensual stop and search varied significantly across the country.

3.25 It was pointed out that an accurate picture of the use of stop and search had not been available at the time the Advisory Group had been conducting its work. The disaggregated data now available (publication had commenced in mid-2015) indicated a somewhat different situation regarding police practice than had previously been thought to be the case. Respondents argued that the current low use of consensual stop and search, and the limited success of the tactic in recovering alcohol, meant that a new statutory power was not required, would not be useful, and would be a disproportionate response to the current situation.

3.26 Related to the above point, respondents also argued that the current power to seize alcohol - which accounted for most alcohol recovered by the police - was sufficient for dealing with alcohol consumption by young people in public places. Some did, however, query the need for an option of arrest if the young person involved did not cooperate with the request to surrender alcohol. Respondents also pointed out that there were other safeguarding options available to the police if they were concerned about the health and wellbeing of a young person drinking alcohol (see below, paragraph 3.30), and other criminal justice options (such as breach of the peace) should they be required.

3.27 In addition, respondents drew attention to data on trends in under-age drinking. They argued that the recent decrease in drinking amongst school-age children had occurred without such a power being available and that a new power was thus unnecessary. [10]

3.28 The issue of the rights of children and young people was another common theme in the responses. There were concerns that any new power to stop and search children and young people for alcohol would (i) contravene the rights of children and young people (as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and (ii) would conflict with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child's recent recommendations regarding the use of stop and search against children and young people. A new power would thus be open to international criticism, and would be contrary to other efforts of the Scottish Government regarding the promotion of children's wellbeing. There was a suggestion that a 'children's rights impact assessment' should be carried out.

3.29 There were also concerns about how any new power might be used or misused by the police. Respondents felt that the power might be open to abuse, with the targeting of particular individuals, types of individuals or communities, and inconsistent interpretations of what constituted 'reasonable grounds for suspicion'. There was a concern that a new power might lead to an increase in the use of stop and search, with respondents also drawing attention to (i) how use of the tactic might be driven by performance targets, and (ii) the lack of detail currently available regarding monitoring and reporting requirements.

3.30 A range of respondents argued that under-age drinking (in public places or more generally) was a social and cultural rather than a criminal justice issue, and should be addressed in this context. Organisations and individuals commonly highlighted the importance of measures such as education on alcohol use (aimed at parents and carers as well as children and young people) and support for those affected by alcohol misuse, and of providing social opportunities and safe environments to keep children and young people away from alcohol. Organisations also called for a strategic multi-agency or multi-stranded response, and for GIRFEC [11] and the Scottish Government's alcohol strategy [12] to provide the framework for dealing with under-age drinking.

3.31 Further, organisational respondents emphasised the importance of adopting an evidence-based approach to tackling under-age drinking. They questioned the merits of stop and search in this respect, particularly in relation to deterrence and prevention, and suggested a range of alternative measures which might be pursued more effectively. These included:

  • Alcohol price controls
  • Regulation of advertising and marketing
  • Working with retailers to prevent (and report) under-age sales
  • Promoting age- ID schemes
  • Making greater use of test purchase schemes, and taking action against retailers selling to those under the age of 18
  • Using local licensing decisions to influence supply
  • Targeted police patrols, and positive and supportive policing, based on good relationships and trust.

3.32 A few respondents also made the point that a new stop and search power would not be effective in safeguarding children and young people as it did not take account of the reality of under-age drinking. Most under-age drinking takes place indoors, at home or in the homes of friends (as indicated by evidence from research such as SALSUS), rather than in public places. Further, it was also argued - by young people amongst others - that young people would always find ways of getting access to alcohol, and that a new stop and search measure could potentially have the effect of driving those who that did drink outdoors to less safe, less public locations.

Other comments

3.33 There was a small number of additional issues raised, each mentioned by just one or two respondents. These included the following:

  • That the possession of alcohol by young people was not an offence, and that this raised questions about the legitimacy of a stop and search power
  • That there may be practical issues regarding implementation of a new stop and search policy in rural areas
  • That the manner in which any police tactic was implemented, at individual officer level, was key to short and long-term success
  • That an improved power of consensual stop and search might be preferable to either having no stop and search option or introducing a new statutory stop and search power
  • That consideration might be given to making it an offence for young people to be in possession of alcohol in public.

3.34 Finally, a few respondents indicated a belief that the police already had the power to stop and search young people for alcohol.


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