Improving trust between children and the police
Conservative MP Tim Loughton highlights the mistrust that exists between police and young people and calls for further action to improve relations.
Last October the APPG for Children produced its report on the relationship between children and the police entitled ‘It’s all about trust.’ This followed a comprehensive 18 month inquiry where we held evidence sessions and took submissions from police officers, police and justice organisations and children’s charities and included a visit to Cookham Wood Young Offenders Institute. Crucially we spoke to many children and young people and cite them in their own words and on their own terms.
The picture we built up is a troubling one. In too many cases children’s attitudes towards the police are characterised by feelings of mistrust and sometimes fear. Communications can be poor and often there is a lack of mutual respect. First contact is important in shaping children and young people’s attitudes, yet for a significant number of them this experience is a negative one. If their first contact with police is to be hauled over for an apparently unreasonable stop and search procedure with little justification for why inevitably relations will get off on a bad footing. If subsequent contact is primarily when they are interviewed or stopped on a pretext of doing something wrong those predispositions can be exacerbated.
More worrying was the evidence that certain groups, many of whom are likely to have higher levels of contact with the police share similar feelings and attitudes. In particular children in care and those with SEN, language, communication or mental health problems often have their needs overlooked in encounters with the police. A culture of treating children as ‘young adults’ often means that many of the 129,274 children arrested in 2013, including 11,369 under the age of 14, are not given age appropriate treatment they are due especially when detained in custody.
But we also saw many examples of good practice even if frustratingly they were often not widely disseminated. The introduction of Safer School Partnerships and popularity of police cadet units is one way of engaging children positively and growing empathetic relationships. In my own county of Sussex I set up a ‘midnight football’ project some years ago where police join teenagers playing football on a Saturday night at a leisure centre. The Sussex PCC Katy Bourne has led the way with a Youth Commission which has worked hand in hand with police officers to improve practices and understanding and it was heartening to see the new Chief Constable pledge to implement as many of their proposals as he could straight away.
The enthusiastic involvement of senior police officers during and since the inquiry has been outstanding and ACPO have developed a new National Strategy for the policing of children and young people and will be reporting back to the APPG again in June. The Home Secretary has also changed the law about how we detain 17 year olds so clear action has flowed from this excellent report and more is promised which is why it deserves a further airing today.