More police to patrol school playgrounds

By Sophie Goodchild,Home Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 09 November 2003 01:00

An extra 100 police officers are to patrol the playgrounds of British schools identified as breeding grounds for young offenders.

Ministers are keen to extend the Government's Safer School partnerships, which bases police officers in schools to combat crime and make pupils feel safer.

This follows the fatal stabbing last week of a 14-year-old boy during a fight at a secondary school. Luke Walmsley, a pupil at Birkbeck School, in North Somercotes, Lincolnshire, was killed after a quarrel with another pupil in a corridor.

Last year the Government announced that 100 police officers would be posted to some 70 secondary schools. Under plans being drawn up by Government, the number will increase to 200.

This week, the Youth Justice Board, which advises the Government on curbing youth crime, and the Association of Chief Police Officers will announce new guidelines to ensure that the police and child protection officers swap information on children at risk of offending before they commit a crime.

In the past, child protection agencies have been reluctant to share files on those vulnerable children who are mainly aged between eight and 13. Under these new proposals, social workers and the police will be able to obtain sensitive information without gaining the consent of the child.

A poll carried out earlier this year for the Youth Justice Board found that 60 per cent of pupils worried they would be physically intimidated either in or on the way to school. The research also found that the majority of offences were committed by other young people.

In an interview with this paper, Sir Charles Pollard, the acting chairman of the Youth Justice Board, said his organisation was working with the police to devise new ways of tackling crime in and around schools and that placing officers in schools had proved successful.

He said that "restorative justice" schemes, in which offenders are forced to confront their victims, could be used to reduce the number of children who carried weapons to school.

"There is a staggering naivety among children about the consequences of carrying weapons. Restorative justice is a very hard-edged approach, not a soft option, and it can be used to reduce exclusions by keeping children in schools and making them confront their behaviour."

However, Sir Charles warned that schools should not be turned into "fortresses" and that children should not be "vilified" as criminals.

"Chief constables think putting officers in schools is a good use of police resources, and there is no doubt that there has been a strong impact on school behaviour in terms of crime and of carrying weapons," said Sir Charles, the former chief constable of Thames Valley police.

"I think we must not over-react. Carrying knives is a serious business ... but it's a great tragedy when you start making schools into fortresses. It creates a fear culture and this can beget even more problems."