Role of Empathy in Police Contact with Young People from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

Closed 12 Apr 2023

Opened 4 Apr 2022


This report is concerned with a study that was funded by the Scottish Institute for Police Research as part of the Seldom Heard Voices project. Seldom-heard voices refers to groups or communities who may be less likely to engage with the police for a variety reason such as race, religion, sexuality, disability, age, or deprivation. In the case of this study, we were interested in young people identifying within the LGBTQI+ community and with the additional intersectional criteria of being care-experienced.


We have taken a critical-interrogative approach that seeks to examine the issue of policing in relation to seldom heard voices through three modes of investigation.

The first examines Police Scotland’s overall strategic approach in terms of policing within various communities. Police strategic reporting can be considered as displaying similar practices found in the corporate and commercial world. A key aspect of this type of reporting is laying out the future direction of the organization in terms of the vision of senior executives. 

The second mode of investigation was to examine police recruit training lesson material on the issue of dealing with diverse groups. Our aim was to find out the nature of what is covered in recruit training and to explore the underlying basis of what was taught in terms of prevailing concepts and ideologies. The teaching materials are analysed from a discourse analytic perspective in order to reveal discursive dilemmas within the lessons.

The third mode of our investigation was to explore what young people have to say about their experience of coming into contact with police officers. The aim was to find out if the strategic direction of Police Scotland’s approach to community policy and the training given to recruits on engaging with diverse groups was reflected in young people, some of whom identified as belonging to the LGBTQI+ community. However, we also wanted to explore an additional dimension in terms of care-experienced young people. This is important as we take the view that many of the issues that confront young people are intersectional and cross-cutting.


  1. We recommend that Police Scotland’s overall strategic direction with regard to contact with diverse groups should be based explicitly on a model of new public governance that recognizes and promotes modern policing for ‘public good’. This could involve continuous professional development (CPD) training based on real-life contexts and associated understandings of the changing nature of society and the role of modern policing in it.
  2. We recommend that Police Scotland’s approach to police recruit training with respect to inclusion and diversity should focus upon ‘real life’ hate crime in terms of the kinds of abuse directed at certain group. This could involve experienced officers sharing with recruits in training cases of dealing with such crimes and the difficulties involved in charging offenders.
  3. We recommend that Police Scotland’s approach to policing young people from the LGBTQI+ community should recognise their wariness of police officers in terms of the issues of ‘boundaries’ in encounters. This could involve adopting ‘policing with empathy’ as workable solution to this problem through more research on how police officers can successfully work with young people in creating a safer and more tolerant society.
  4. We recommend intersectionality should be recognised by police officers in dealing with diverse groups, especially those who are care-experienced. A demonstration of such recognition would be to act as a role model in declaring being care-experienced a protected characteristic with regard to policing in Scotland.

Read the final report

This research project was part of our seldom heard communities programmePolice Scotland, the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR) and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) joined together to provide significant funding for projects and activities which meet genuine evidence gaps. This work will support Police Scotland to further contact and engagement with all elements of our communities in Scotland, but particularly those groups which are seldom heard.


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