Stop and search powers highest in Derry but down over year

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The use of stop-and-search remains higher in Derry and Strabane than anywhere in the North yet there has been a “significant downward trend”, according to an independent review.

David Seymour, in his 11th report on the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007, found that between August 2017 and August 2018 a quarter of stop-and-searches under Section 24/Schedule 3 of the Act occurred in Derry & Strabane.

“The three Districts where there was the highest use of the power were Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon (1,030), Belfast City (1069) and Derry City & Strabane (1,450). This accounts for well over half (57 per cent) the use of the power. The use in Derry City and Strabane accounts for nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the overall use,” reports Mr. Seymour.

Section 24/Schedule 2 specifically relates to searches for “munitions and transmitters”.

It allows police to stop-and-search individuals for explosives, firearms, ammunitions or wireless scanners or transmitters whether they reasonably suspect them to possess them or not. Despite the disproportionately high rate of usage in Derry and Strabane, which makes up 8 per cent of the North’s population but accounted for 23 per cent of Section 24/Schedule 3 executions, use of the power has declined.

“There was a significant downward trend. In particular in Derry the drop in use was 20 per cent and in Belfast it was 29 per cent. Only in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon was there a significant (14 per cent) increase in use,” states Mr. Seymour.

Derry & Strabane, however, was also overrepresented when it came to use of Section 21, which allows the PSNI “stop a person for so long as is necessary to question him to ascertain what he knows about a recent explosion or another recent incident endangering life; or what he knows about a person killed or injured in a recent explosion or incident”.

“This power was most frequently used in Belfast (333), Ards & North Down (242) and Derry City & Strabane (233). This accounts for well over half the use of the power,” writes Mr. Seymour.

The inspector received several complaints from republicans. For example, there were complaints about “a heavy handed response to managing the Easter Parade in 2018 in Creggan. Reference was made to 17 arrests (one resulting in a broken arm)”, the report states, and about “the distribution of a leaflet targeting Creggan which was widely regarded by residents as a slur on the entire community and contrary to the spirit of community policing (it was said that if a similar profiling tactic had been employed in a Muslim community in London there would have been widespread condemnation)”.

These were passed on to the Northern Ireland Office.

“The PSNI response is that the focus, in particular, on Derry/Strabane demonstrates that JSA powers are being targeted against those who pose the greatest threat. The intelligence picture is worrying and, inevitably, not fully understood by residents in the area,” he observes.