Ideas on tackling school-age youth violence

Dear Editor,

The incidents of  school-age youth violence are becoming pervasive so much so that serious interventions are necessary in the short to medium term.  I noted the recent observations by Major General (ret’d) Joe Singh with regard to community empowerment, and the references to his contribution by personalities like Ms. Geralda Dennison and Mr. Emile Mervin who both stated a case for – what I would describe as a revival of community partnership and ownership.  I will not rehash my nearly three-year long efforts to get the relevant authorities to intervene in the non-development of the Paradise Housing Scheme through the Paradise Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society for the benefit of youths, except to say that my experiences with that particular issue have convinced me that the cynicism of Ms. Lorie-Mae Heywood when she says “We will soon forget our outrage and tears and outcries and even  letter-writing …as yet another life is cut short” is not misplaced.  I only hope that we will not hear that the Cooperative Society has less than seven members and therefore liquidation is recommended by the Chief Cooperatives Development Officer who has been managing the Society for the last nine years.

Editor we all have an unswerving duty to ensure that our young people are provided with the opportunities to become productive citizens in a climate free from fear.  We owe it to our forebears to leave a legacy that builds upon what we have inherited.  The question of whether we are doing enough for our young, who – if the truth is to be told, did not have any say in their being here, is particularly relevant today.  While participating in the first (and arguably demanding) Urban Crime and Violence Prevention  programme conducted by the World Bank Institute, I came upon  the “Safer School Partnerships Guidance” developed under the auspices of the Home Office; the Department for Children, Schools, and Families; Youth Justice Board; and the Association of  Chief Police Officers.  I would like to recommend this document as required reading in view of our emergent circumstances.

However, Editor, with your kind indulgence I would like to share (sometimes verbatim)  a few of what I consider to be the salient points of these guidelines with which we can more readily identify.  A Safer School Partnership is essentially “a formal agreement between a school or partnership of schools and  police to work together in order to keep young people safe, reduce crime and the fear of crime and  improve behaviour in schools and their communities.”  I would also like to suggest that if –  implemented instead of  the permanent presence of a regular police rank that we consider utilizing trained neighbourhood  police members.  A permanent “highly visible and approachable presence” could have the beneficial effect of being reassuring, responsive and ready to “advise on issues around crime, safety, and the law, and work with the school to diffuse any tensions or conflicts within the school community that may arise.”  SSP can also have the added advantage of building “… positive relationships between young people and the police. Giving young people a chance to meet police officers in school, away from some of the influences of the street, can help to foster these relationships. This can then have benefits for the police when encountering them in the wider local community.”

Among the specific benefits which can evolve through the SSP programme are: students will feel safer, knowing that a police officer is on hand to help resolve conflicts and respond to harmful behaviour; learn more effectively as they grow more confident that they can attend school in safety; find out how to avoid being drawn into crime and anti-social or extremist behaviour and learn more about what the police do in the community; receive support if they have been victims of crime and learn new skills to avoid being victims and be safer on journeys to and from school; and benefit from a positive role model through contact with the SSP officer.

According to the SSP Guidance schools will also benefit in that there will be: improved student behaviour and attendance, and potentially fewer exclusions and better academic achievement; help to identify, challenge and support pupils most at risk of causing harm and offending through benefiting from the professional expertise a police officer can bring; receive support to identify and help pupils most susceptible to the messages of violent extremism and/or gang culture, if these are particular issues in the area; the specialist support the police can offer in dealing with screening pupils for weapons; searching pupils for certain items; dealing with intruders to the school, including any violent or abusive adults; and dealing with incidents where physical force is needed to control or restrain a pupil; a calmer school environment which is more conducive to learning and achieving and where all members of the school community will feel safer; integrate better within multi-agency teams, helping to support more effective interventions with pupils and families; and build better relations with the local community.

The police will: see reductions in youth crime and anti-social behaviour, through identifying and dealing with issues at an early stage in school; see improved public confidence in local community policing as a result of the relationships built through SSPs; achieve improved efficiency and better use of police time in terms of prevention and early intervention; be able to better support and monitor prolific and other priority young offenders through working with schools and multi-agency teams; be able to identify and support children and young people who feel threatened by crime and anti-social behaviour; have the opportunity to talk to young people about local crime issues – including if there are problems around gang culture or group offending, weapon carrying or risks from violent extremism; and build better relationships with young people and their parents, which will have significant benefits in the wider community.

Finally, parents will be more confident about their children’s safety in an SSP school and on journeys to and from school; be reassured that any particular tensions in the local community such as racism, gang culture or weapons issues will not be allowed to intrude on the school; if their child is at risk of involvement in anti-social behaviour or crime, know that the police presence in school will help deal with this in an appropriate way; be reassured that teachers have the support of police in ensuring good pupil behaviour and attendance, and in tackling bullying; and know that their child is being encouraged to trust the police and to take a responsible attitude towards issues around crime.

Editor, all that I have tried to do here is outline another initiative worth considering in light of the fact that several agencies and individuals have publicly declared the need to move outside of the conventional framework in addressing the prevalence of issues that have heretofore been without our collective local experience.

Yours faithfully
Patrick E. Mentore

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