Giles Gardner explains how social work placements for police officer trainees are helping challenge prejudices within the force

I’m sure that many people will have watched the BBC’s expose of police cadets in The Secret Policeman in 2003 behaving in a manner that can only serve to undermine public trust in the police force and which exposed the weakness of the training being delivered.

As a social worker I was dismayed by the obvious absence of any political, racial or gender awareness.

Isn’t it funny how the world works? At around the same time as the TV programme was aired and media interest was at its peak, a chance meeting with Jennie Johnson, force community engagement manager with Devon and Cornwall Constabulary Training College led to Devon Council and the constabulary working together to create new learning opportunities for trainee police officers.

In an effort to address the issues identified by the expose, the training programme for young officers has been comprehensively updated. The changes have been steered by recommendations made by the Home Office following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and as a consequence of the issues highlighted by the Victoria Climbie case.

The element of this transformation to have an impact on social care is the creation of placement partnerships. In practice this means trainee police officers spending a short period of properly organised time with social services in local offices.

Being a forward-thinking organisation we were keen to develop a relationship with the learning and development arm of the police and to strengthen our partnership with them. All too often, in the past, our contact with the law only occurs at the time of crisis and at such times the respective ignorance of each other’s roles can make for a less than seamless service.

Since we implemented this initiative five trainee police officers have enjoyed rich learning experience in local offices.

The feedback received from Jennie Johnson has been very positive. She has written: “It was apparent listening to the students delivering their presentations to their colleagues and trainers that they now do not see situations purely in black and white but appreciate the many hues of grey that exist in the real world. They reported huge developments in understanding and demonstrating good behaviour in dealing with vulnerable adults and also that they simply did not appreciate just how large and varied the social services remit is. They all found the experience humbling and appreciate just how ‘lucky’ they are within their own environments.”

Such experiences develop shared understanding can only strengthen partnerships. This example illustrates that social care has much to offer other agencies motivated to change.

Giles Gardner is operations manager, Devon Council

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