Stop and search roles reversed


Desmond Tutu Foundation brings together Tottenham’s police and youth

By Sergeant Lee Davies

Back in May I was one of the Haringey Police officers asked to attend two special roundtables in Tottenham organised by the Desmond Tutu Foundation. The foundation uses a South African concept called Ubuntu and the aim is to put young people in a room with police officers and for the two sides to get to know each other better. This hopefully means that we can see each other’s viewpoints a bit better which could eventually lead to better rela- tions in the community.

The Desmond Tutu Foundation chose 10 London boroughs where it thought this concept could make a di erence and Haringey was one of them.

On two consecutive Mondays, 12 police officers gathered at a church in Tottenham where we met about the same number of youngsters from neighbouring estates. The police ranged in age and experience, from young probationers to officers with 25 years’ experience and I can honestly say every one of them gained something from the events.

The youngsters were mainly male between the ages of 13 to 18 – some of them had experience of the police, some didn’t, but we were all strangers to each other with no previous contact.

We didn’t wear uniform so everyone could relax, the evenings began with an introductory ice-breaker. Afterwards we divided into four groups of three officers and youngsters and a youth leader from the Foundation to structure the session. First of all the youth leader asked us about general things like sport or music so we were able to get to know each other better and find some common ground. As the session went on, we moved on to more contentious subjects like stop and search, drug use and the legalisation of cannabis.

The first thing that interested me when we all talked about knife crime was that almost all the youngsters were supportive of getting knives off the street and did not want to see their friends getting hurt. I was pleased to hear that they did understand that stop and search was a tool in helping get knives out of the local area. That really took me by surprise – in fact only one of the participants was totally against all stop and search.

We then did some role play activities where the youngsters played the police trying to find a knife while the police acted the role of the person being searched – we tried to be as obstructive and aggressive as possible so that they could see how difficult it is to do a search on people who do not want to cooperate for whatever reason. In turn they showed us how it feels to be stopped and searched with not much explanation of why it is happening.

When you do lots of stop and searches in your day job you can become slightly robotic about it, and forget that it is a person you are dealing with. I can safely say that the youngsters strongly brought it home to us what a big deal it can be for the person being searched. For us the big takeaway lesson was to communicate better why we have to search someone, and the refreshing surprise was how much underlying support from them there was for stop and search when it is done properly.


To find out more about the Desmond Tutu Foundation :


Photo credit: John Leach