Some might say this is not real police work. One recent letter in the MEN said police in schools was, along with the increased use of surveillance, a sign of a broken society. I don't agree. It is an excellent investment to build a positive relationship with young people as early as possible. If we can get young people more interested in their neighbourhoods they will be better citizens. A relatively small number of children are faced with problems of poor parenting, drug or alcohol abuse in the family or physical neglect. Police officers working with teaching staff and other professionals in schools can help to ensure a joined-up approach to these issues.
I also went to a residents meeting in Orrell attended by the local sergeant, PC and PCSO. The meeting was attended by people who clearly cared about their area and wanted to get involved to make it better. It's fair to say, however, that like me they were of the older generation.The main topic for discussion was youth nuisance, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, and a perception that some of the young people came from outside the area and should be shipped back. A local shop keeper complained that youths gathered outside his shop and tried to get adults to buy them alcohol and cigarettes.
The local officers were using a number of means to deal with the problem . Some residents wanted to see more enforcement and a tougher line, others made the point that young people wanted to gather to meet one another in places they felt safe. For me it is important that when we have these meetings all the agencies serving that area are represented and can be held to account. We also need to accept that not everyone wants to come to a public meeting and we have to use a variety of means of consultation, including with young people. I also think that the best solutions come when local people are heavily involved working with local professionals rather than having something done to them.
This brings us back to officers in schools and helping young people to understand the part they play in their neighbourhood. If we involve young people in finding solutions to local problems including problems caused by their own behaviour, it is more likely to create lasting solutions. This might involve more local facilities or agreeing where young people can congregate in safety without causing nuisance to others. Of course police officers must continue to enforce the law and deal with anti-social behaviour but many of the problems at local level involve tensions between groups and individuals and much police work is trying to resolve those tensions.
In all this just moving a problem from one location to another provides respite but does not solve the problem long term. The heart of neighbourhood policing has to be the philosophy of problem solving. Solving the problem in many cases means getting an offender into court and locked up, but at the same time we have to work at the other end of the age spectrum trying to interrupt the conveyor belt of offending which is a depressing feature of some families and some neighbourhoods.
Going back to the classroom in Ashton and indeed other schools I have visited in Greater Manchester I was struck by the way that young children of many races learnt together and seemed oblivious of their visible differences. In a week where many have seen hope in a new American president this seems like a sign that people of different races might get on better in the future. I think its right that police officers charged with keeping the peace actively support that process.