NO MORE ‘US AND THEM’ THINKING
In doing a job as difficult as a police officer’s it is perhaps understandable how easy it is to become stuck in an “us and them” mentality.
A new partnership in Oxfordshire is helping both police and young people alike to see things from a new perspective.
Stonham provides supported housing to vulnerable client groups including troubled young people who often find themselves targeted by the long arm of the law, and police students are now working directly with them to improve relationships and understanding between the two.
The initiative was taken by Thames Valley Police, who approached Stonham with the idea. “Rather than police students going to Hendon College for two years and becoming institutionalised themselves, they instead study in the communities in which they return after qualifying,” says Matthew Wigglesworth, area business manager for Stonham who helped set up the scheme. “That way they get a feel for their local issues, the young people in our services, and the issues for our staff in relation to how they work with the police.”
In shadowing the work of Stonham staff, trainees get a real understanding of the difficulties that young people face. They find that problems often emanate from visitors to the project rather than from the young people themselves.
For one trainee placed at a young homeless project in Witney it was a real eyeopener, says Wigglesworth: “He admitted he came along with some fixed prejudices about this unpopular client group, and quickly he was disavowed of those views.
As a result, the stigma of homeless young people disappeared. He was also incredibly supportive of our staff.”
Understanding goes both ways, however, and Wigglesworth says he is “staggered” that the residents at the Witney scheme and Windmill House in Oxford among others received the police placements so positively. “The main risk from my perspective was the reaction from young people and their visitors to the knowledge that there was a policeman working with our staff, particularly in the way it might blur professional boundaries. Much to my amazement I was reassured that this hasn’t been the case.”
So far there have been 10 placements across six schemes. Things have gone smoothly for all concerned, although it is early days and no long-term evaluation has yet been carried out. “I think this model is under-utilised,” assures Wigglesworth. “It could go right across the country.”
What do you think?
“Initiatives of this kind encourage a better understanding by the police of young people as individuals. Listening to the views of young people should be at the heart of all youth policy and practice. Not only does it improve programmes it also builds relationships and understanding, which is so important in working with young people at risk of offending.”
Jon Boagey, head of information and research at the National Youth Agency
EYE OPENER FOR SUSSEX TRAINEES
Rainer, the national charity for undersupported young people, is starting to make important links with Sussex Police. As with Stonham Housing, the local police authority’s desire to get their trainees into the community helped spark things off.
Dan Hayman, a youth worker at Rainer’s West Sussex Supported Accommodation Service (WSSAS), got the idea while working with one of his clients who was attending a Prince’s Trust course. After being approved by Sussex Police, trainee police officers are now being placed at WSSAS to shadow Hayman over two weeks. Being taken round the community by a youth worker allows trainees to see the range of organisations and services that young people have to deal with, and this total immersion gives them an unparalleled experience.
“We just had our first student placement recently, Karen Goshawk,” says Hayman. “I try to make it as comprehensive as possible.
One of the days we went on a prison visit and on another day I had a new referral from the probation service.
“We also met with some local groups that we work with, such as the Worthing Churches Homelessness Project and Options [a drug and alcohol treatment service]. Then, sometimes it’s young people just coming up to the office, having a cup of tea and letting me know how they’re getting on.”
Through all this, Goshawk was able to gain an understanding of where young people are coming from, the issues that they face in their lives – such as homelessness or family breakdown – and the impact that these can have on their offending.
From Hayman’s point of view, the chance for young people to meet a police officer without getting in trouble was invaluable.
“I think a lot of our young people are quite anti-police and anti-establishment because they’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system already. We thought it was important for them to see what police are like out of uniform.
“It also gives the police trainees a chance to question things and perhaps influence what their decision-making might be before they’re out on the streets.”
Sadly, WSSAS isn’t able to invest a huge amount of time in working with trainees and on the extra work that creates, so there will only be an estimated three per year. But Hayman remains optimistic about the scheme’s impact: “I’m hoping that our young people might not react quite so negatively towards the police in the future. There has been some good feedback on both sides so far.”
What do you think?
“This is an important aspect of public protection. It gives police officers the opportunity to see how services work in the community at an early stage in their career. I met with the first of the trainees on placement with Rainer and we both agreed that more placements with a wider variety of agencies would be a good idea. This should help young people see the police as less threatening and hopefully assist in bridging the ‘them and us’ divide.”
Cathy Philip, a housing officer from Sussex Probation Service
TOWER HAMLETS OFFICERS TEAR DOWN THE BARRIERS
Most people would probably think the lot of police officers in Tower Hamlets is not a happy one. Yet this hasn’t stopped the local safer neighbourhoods team making some strong connections with young people in the community.
In a bid to tackle gang-related antisocial behaviour, the team launched a “community orientated policing” (COP) leadership course. Participants are given a chance to see what life is like on the other side of the fence, and get involved in everything from carrying out mock security exercises at Canary Wharf to prison visits, custody and court workshops, and first-aid courses. The emphasis is very much on mutual trust and responsibility.
Each participant has to attend the whole course to pass and receives a certificate at the end of it. “The course instils a sense of self-responsibility and autonomy in the students,” says PC Steve Guinn, a schools officer in Tower Hamlets. “I felt proud on their behalf to see them walk out on their graduation day ceremony, in front of their friends and family with their heads held high.”
Although it is targeted at those most at risk of offending, any young person who goes to a Tower Hamlets school or lives in the area can attend. Its success so far has been remarkable. Starting in 2005, 166 young people have now taken part of whom only nine have dropped out. Thirty-one attendees had come to the notice of the police prior to starting the course. After completing the course, only three went on to reoffend and nine even went on to join the voluntary police cadets.
PC Ian Nichols, a member of the safer neighbourhoods team, believes the course would be of great benefit nationwide. “The results have been very good. It has helped break down the barriers between police and young people – some have even asked if they can do the course again.”
The project recently won a prize at the Safer London Problem Solving Awards, and Nichols hopes this will help gain funding.
What do you think?
“The pupils who we refer to the courses are generally those who are disaffected and who are finding school quite challenging. We’ve noticed a huge improvement in their self-esteem, their self-worth, their relationship with the police and with authority in general.”
Pam Macdonald-Brown, teacher, Raines Foundation School