Find answers to some of the frequently asked questions about our campaign, and the wider issue of police in schools.
In 1999, the MacPherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence declared that the Metropolitan police force was institutionally racist. In doing so, the inquiry confirmed what many Black communities had long since known. Racism is not only individual, but is deeply woven into society's institutions.
Whilst the police and others have moved to deny institutional racism in the force, little has changed since 1999. All of the evidence points to an enduring problem. Black people are disproportionately subject to stop and search, use of force including Taser, and deaths following police use of force.
At all levels of policing, there is racial inequality and this continues despite piecemeal attempts at reform. To truly tackle racism in policing, and in wider society, it is necessary to recognise that the problem is institutional.
One of the key lines of defence for police in schools is the idea that police officers can occupy more pastoral roles in schools. There are a number of problems with this idea.
Law enforcement is central to the role of policing, and evidence suggests that police officers often revert back to these roles. Moreover, police officers are ill-prepared and inadequately trained for pastoral roles. If schools want youth-workers, counsellors, pastoral staff, or additional teachers, then schools should employ professionals in those roles - not police officers. Given the cuts to the teaching body over the last decade, it is particularly galling that money can now be found for more police.
For many young people from over-policed communities, police officers do not invoke a sense of safety. Therefore, the ability of police officers is always already limited by a wider culture of institutionally racist policing.
The Prevent duty is a deeply ineffective and problematic counter-terror programme that aims to tackle so-called extremism. It has been widely condemned, particularly for its Islamophobic underpinnings, and the way it impacts upon Muslim communities. Both police and schools have a 'duty' under Prevent, and 2013 guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers emphasises the role of police in schools in relation to Prevent.
Whilst Muslim students are already subject to high levels of surveillance, school-based police officers will further exacerbate the problem.
Proponents of police in schools often argue that the presence of police makes schools safer. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, there is mounting evidence to suggest that police in schools make many students feel less safe, particularly those from already over-policed communities. We conducted a survey in Greater Manchester, and the responses show that police in schools disrupt the nurturing and safe space we all hope our schools can be.
It is more likely that a police presence would escalate situations, leading to the criminalisation of young people. Evidence from the United States shows that, despite huge investment, school-based police officers have been entirely ineffective in tackling crime and youth violence.
Money that would be spent on school-based police officers could be better spent on pastoral roles within schools to create a culture of care rather than punishment. Our report shows that the community would choose the employment of a counsellor over a school-based police officer. Furthemore, the solutions to youth violence are in addressing the root causes of such violence, not introducing more policing.
This mentality is already created by the structural racism within the police. It shouldn’t be children who need to compromise in an attempt to reduce this, and schools - safe spaces for many - should not be compromised.
The encroachment of police into young people’s lives is not always positive. This is evidenced by the use of racially biased gangs databases. Gangs databases over-police the lives of black young people based on racist stereotypes that construct their interests, cultures and networks as threatening, leading them to be labelled as ‘gang members’. These policing tools, supported by multi-agency working, will thrive and cause harm in a school setting.
Police officers of colour should not be used as mascots to advertise a racist police force in a disingenuous attempt to get students of colour on-side. Moreover, officers of colour are not exempt from perpetuating institutional racism in the same ways as white officers.
Police working without uniform is disingenuous and could cause confusion for students, such as those with special educational needs, as to who that person is and what their role is. This could lead to students potentially sharing something with police that they would not wish to if they were fully informed about the situation. Pastoral support is best coming from people who are specially trained for such roles, without the ‘role confusion’ that comes from a police commitment to law enforcement and intelligence gathering.
Many children and young people do not feel comfortable talking with the police. Police in schools create an environment where safe-space communication doesn’t exist because if a child opens up about something, to the police officer or another member of staff, that information could then be used to criminalise them. Evidence from students who already attend schools with a police officer suggests that the conduct of many school-based police officers is actually having the opposite effect, particularly for students from marginalised communities.