Most reports about young people and the police would have you believe that both groups were at opposite ends of whatever argument supposedly sat between them. But as a company that works across the country with both the police force and a wide range of young people, we have an insight unlike most others.
At Round Midnight, we interact with young people daily: running Theatre in Education performances; PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) workshops; and virtual reality experiences with our ground breaking VR film, Virtual_Decisions.
In particular, our Virtual_Decisions workshops involve discussing topics such as gang culture and criminal exploitation. Both young people from mainstream schools and young people at-risk have engaged in open and honest discussions with the Round Midnight facilitation team; not just the issues of criminal exploitation and gangs, but on the role that authority figures can have within communities.
Dialogues around the perceived breakdown of trust and communication between young people and adults, particularly the police, often follow on from these vitally important PSHE workshops. What is clear from these discussions is that work is needed to build positive relationships between young people and authority figures; and the narrative we hear so often in the media needs to change to reflect that. In this blog, we delve deeper into this issue, and explore the gap between the media, young people, and figures of authority.
As children we are told that a police officer is someone you look out for if you are lost, or in trouble, because they will help keep you safe and get you home. And while this is a safety tip we are all told; it’s not always one that teenagers remember.
As adolescence is left behind, so too, more often than not, are the warnings of our elders. In the hurry to seem ‘grown’, young people – particularly within our inner cities – forget that the role of a police officer is to serve and protect: and they sometimes develop a different association of the law instead. Perpetuated through social media, tabloids and other platforms, is the rhetoric of police officers being a group that young people should avoid and in some cases fear.
Of course, it is sensible to ‘avoid the police’ in the sense that you are law-abiding. However, the idea that young people feel they need to actively avoid the police because of bias is heart-breaking. As facilitators working in communities most at-risk of knife crime; we know full well the impact that a young person reaching out to a trusted adult can have. A young person feeling safe enough to report a concern can literally be the difference between life and death.
And so why would young people feel they cannot speak out to PCs? The media’s portrayal of officers as people that will judge a young person, simply for being a young person.
And on the other side of that judgement? Police sometimes feel criticised in their role serving the community, being seen as a uniform and not a person. In this instance, it seems that the issue lies with a perceived assumption rather than a tangible problem. The relationship between the police and young people is important, so it is vital that change occurs so that both parties can effectively communicate and interact in a constructive way.
First impressions matter. Whether we have met a group of people or not; we can still build a first impression these days. Be it through social media, word of mouth, or indeed the news at 6. And what we hear so often influences what we think. For young people, especially in the wake of the BLM movement, there may be a negative perception of the Police System; and as an extension there may be animosity and misunderstanding of the police officers on the ground in communities.
Moreover, some young people’s first contact with the police is in a ‘crisis’ situation, related to their home or family situation. These young people are often some of the most vulnerable individuals in society. Alongside this, negative perceptions can be passed down from generation to generation.
All these initial experiences with the police lay the foundations for unwarranted hostility. It is therefore important for children to interact with police in a variety of situations that can help resolve the connection between police and high stress, intense situations.
So, how do we encourage a change in this narrative?
School and community initiatives can be great ways to build positive relationships, and a bridge between the social media story and the real life reality. Giving young people a chance to interact with the people behind the uniform and media coverage.
These are some approaches:
- Volunteer Police Cadets: this is for young people aged 13-19 to volunteer with the police.
- Safer School Partnerships: an initiative whereby a police office or community support officer is tied to a school or group of schools. This can involve working closely with at-risk pupils, increasing safety before and after school, supporting parents and pupils, building a relationship with pupils to divert individuals away from crime.
- Community Projects: specific programmes targeted towards the most vulnerable in the community. For instance, Looked After Young People, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Whilst these can be one-off projects, it is always worth considering how the projects can be extended and encourage change over a longer period of time.
Young people developing an understanding of, and a relationship with, the police officers in their local community is a huge part of changing the narrative between YPs and PCs.
But it is also important that police officers receive specialised training to communicate effectively with young people. The way young people have developed their social and communication skills has changed dramatically in the last ten years – the role of social media and the intense period of online lessons during Covid-19 has further impacted this. And if the way a young person communicates has changed; the way adults and authority figures communicate and reason with them, should change too.
Communication is make or break when developing a relationship with young people: as facilitators with years of experience we know there is a fine balance in encouraging young people to see the reality and gravity of their situation, whilst also allowing them the safety of expressing concern over people they have developed a deep loyalty to.
At Round Midnight, we are highly skilled in engaging young people in important subject matters and we are passionate about encouraging a healthy and trusting relationship between young people and authority figures.
What is more, our sister company, a not-for-profit organisation that serves the community, Round Midnight Creative Arts, often receives funding from the police to extend our early intervention tools and help reduce youth crime rates. Meaning we hear first-hand the difference that the police force can have within their community; we see how well young people respond if there is a PC attached to their school; we know the work that local police forces put in behind the scenes to develop initiatives that make real change in the community.
We are dedicated to creating a culture of expression and understanding within all our work. We have always been and will always be, young person focused. What benefits them; what motivates them; what informs and inspires them?
And the Police Force, has plenty of them.
For more information on our programmes, early intervention strategies, and to find out how we are currently working alongside Police, please contact us here.