I went to meet dozens of youngsters before the PCC election to understand what their views were on police officers, policing and wider public services. It was useful, particularly as some young people I met had ‘difficult’ experiences with the police for all sorts of reasons.
There are several things to understand. Children grow up and develop broadly in a similar mould to their parents and family. If their experience during childhood and formative years involves crime or drugs, or alcohol and violence, it’s likely they will have significant challenges themselves. Similarly, youngsters who grow up in households where adults haven’t worked for many years… occasionally never… could find their start in life much tougher.
Whilst we must deal with the here & now, we must also focus much more than ever before on trying to influence those families that are at risk of being or becoming disfunctional into the future. It’s about education, support where appropriate, ensuring behavioural boundaries are understood and any addictions dealt with.
A few families in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent cost public services over a million pound a year each because their situations, social and criminal behaviour. So investing some time effort and money in ensuring youngsters from difficult families don’t grow up to be the next generation of difficult families is socially right and financially cost effective for the future.
But it’s also important to improve the more general relationship between youngsters and the police. The vast majority of young people will have almost nothing to do with police in their daily lives but there are many who will for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways. The police often misunderstanding youngsters and youngsters misunderstanding the police is a real issue so we’re working hard to try and change that. It’s complex, often frustrating but important to do.
One novel way I hoped might be effective, albeit in a small way, was by establishing a new uniformed young police cadets service for 14 to 17 year olds. It’s not about recruiting future police officers, it’s about enhancing life skills, that sense of civic duty, as well as helping young people to understand more about police and why they do what they do. Every district and borough will have a Cadet Unit and Stoke-on-Trent will have at least two. Each Unit has about 35 boys and girls with around twelve of those coming from difficult or challenging backgrounds.
It’s early days but the first few Units are seeing some amazing results with many young lives being enhances, and some turned around for the better. The funding for them is coming mainly from business donations and it’s Police Officers, PCSOs and Special Constabulary Officers who are leading and running the Staffordshire Police Cadets in their own time… extraordinary.
I also intend to establish forums where young people can help to shape the way they interact with police as well as making their communities safer. Much of the £2.5million funding I’ve made available for local areas is going towards initiatives aimed at engaging with and supporting young people’s activities.