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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Softly, softly in the classroom
The police can mediate in bullying cases
Tough on truancy, tough on the causes of truancy - the police are going to take on an extended role in the classroom.

As part of a government drive to reduce absenteeism from school, the government is to send 60 to 70 police officers into tough inner city schools.

This will seek to break the cycle that has seen children playing truant from school and getting involved in street crime.

We're very keen to dispel the idea that this is about patrolling playgrounds. We want to support schools

Police in schools spokesperson

The pilot scheme for partnerships between schools and the police has been running for a year in the London Borough of Southwark.

This has seen each of the borough's 25 secondary schools having a dedicated police officer, drawn from a specially-trained squad of 11 officers.

These officers, who visit schools either every day or two or three days a week, are mostly based in local police stations.

These police have been taught mediation skills and encourage young people to think more about the consequences of their actions.

Security role

These are full-time uniformed police officers, but their role in school is a combination of community liaison and direct intervention in the school.

There have been no arrests made by the officers, but they do get involved in disputes such as bullying, talking to the alleged perpetrators about their actions.

But these are not the "playground patrols" that might be associated with schools in the United States, where the police take on an active security role.

And they are keen to emphasise that they are not enforcing discipline or seeking to tackle bad behaviour that the school cannot control.

Instead the police will listen to the pupils' concerns and will seek to build up relationships with youngsters, in an area of south London where the police might not always be accepted.

Young people themselves are often the victims of crime - particularly street crime such as mobile phone thefts.

And patrols are already operating outside schools when pupils are arriving and leaving, in an attempt to prevent crimes such as phone robberies and assaults.

Village bobby

The police themselves have presented their school role as an attempt to "re-invent the village bobby", offering young people the chance to get to know an individual police officer.

And they say there are signs of reductions in crime figures - but have been eager to downplay any impression that they are responding to disorder in the classroom.

One of the participating schools, Archbishop Michael Ramsey College, has recorded a sharp decrease in incidents reported to the police.

The crime reduction at the school has been measured at 95% - but this figure is based on only a handful of cases.

The pilot scheme followed talks between the police and Archbishop Michael Ramsey College, after there had been cases of pupils being attacked on their way to school.

"We're very keen to dispel the idea that this is about patrolling playgrounds. We want to support schools," said a spokesperson for the police pilot project.

"We would make such patrols if necessary, but that's not what it's about," said the spokesperson.

"If there were any serious incidents, they would be investigated in the usual way ... but this is an attempt to restore the image of the village bobby."

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Education
Schools to get permanent police
09 Apr 02 | Education
Teachers welcome police in schools
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