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Police in schools

Police officers working in schools to prevent crime and violence

Insufficient evidence of impact

?

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

?

Prevention Type

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Setting

  • School and college

Themes

  • A safe, positive place to learn

What is it?

This summary covers a range of different activities undertaken by police officers working directly in schools.

PSHE and pastoral support

Police officers might lead aspects of personal, social and health education (PSHE). For example, officers might provide lessons or assemblies on topics like what to do in an emergency, drugs, or personal safety. Officers might also provide pastoral support to individual students to develop social skills and pro-social behaviour. For example, one programme in the US involved police officers identifying and mentoring children involved in rival conflicting groups.

PSHE and pastoral activities might provide skills and knowledge that support positive development and protect children against involvement in crime and violence.

Enforcement and safety

Police officers might ensure that schools are safe places and children are not targeted by crime groups. Officers might conduct patrols in and around the school or initial investigations into potential offences. This activity might focus on counteracting recruitment from criminal organisations, drug dealing, or bullying.

However, critics have argued that this type of activity might have harmful impacts. They suggest that it might cause young people to be criminalised for behaviour that would have otherwise been dealt with using non-criminal school sanctions. Or it may reinforce negative stereotypes about schools and pupils.

Information sharing, collaboration, and legitimacy

Working with schools might enable the police to share information and identify young people who need more support or are in danger of criminal exploitation. It could also allow officers to develop positive relationships with the community, gain children’s trust and develop legitimacy.

In England and Wales, police presence in schools is often organised through the Safer Schools Partnership model. A police officer can work with several schools, just one school at a time, or work with schools on an ad hoc basis to address specific needs. Officers can be based on school premises or in their usual station.

Is it effective?

There is very little research on the impact of this approach, and insufficient evidence to calculate an overall impact estimate.

The YEF’s evidence and gap map identified five existing studies which evaluate the impact of relevant programmes. Findings are mixed and overall do not clearly support the claim that the approach has desirable impacts. Interpreting these findings can be challenging because having police officers work closely with children in schools could lead to more recorded incidents through closer observation. More research is required before the Toolkit can provide a headline impact estimate.

There are two particularly relevant studies from England and Wales.

A study published in 2005 reported the findings from a national evaluation of the Safer Schools Partnership programme. It compared 15 schools which worked with a police officer through the programme with schools which didn’t take part in the programme. The study suggested that the programme reduced absences but found no evidence to suggest reductions in exclusions or offending.

A more recent study used a rigorous randomised control trial design to estimate the impact of the ‘Police in Classrooms’ programme in 81 schools across England and Wales. The programme aimed to improve perceptions of and trust in the police and involved police officers conducting lessons on drugs and the law. The trial found positive impacts on children’s perceptions of the police but did not measure the impact on crime or violence.

More research is required before the Toolkit can provide a headline impact estimate.

How secure is the evidence?

The research on the impact of police in schools is very weak. There is not sufficient evidence to calculate a headline impact estimate.

How can you implement it well?

Although research on the impact of police in schools is limited, there is more research on schools’ experience of implementing the approach.

Engaging the local community

Some schools reported challenges and concerns about local perceptions of having a police officer in the school. School staff were worried that the local community might think that the presence of the police officer suggests the school is unsafe or ineffective. A way to overcome this and encourage schools’ commitment and trust in the work could be to engage the local community through outreach activities and challenge this perception.

Defining the police officer’s role

In some studies, there seemed to be confusion and uncertainty amongst both police officers and schools about the role of the police officer. Officers working in schools report that the role is very different from normal police work and involves a ‘steep learning curve’. It can be difficult for officers to find the right balance between acting as a police officer, being aware of schools’ and students’ needs and not criminalising students. Clearly defining the police officers’ role might avoid this confusion.

Officer availability and consistency

Officer availability and consistency is likely to be an important consideration for implementation success. Police officers can be removed from schools to fulfil other police duties and schools may find this frustrating and disruptive. This may affect any impact of police officers in schools.

How much does it cost?

There is a lack of cost data and we have not been able to allocate a cost rating. The main costs are likely to include the salary of police officers, project management and administration, and any additional support staff. Costs may vary depending on the number of hours a police officer spends in a school, the number of officers, how many extra project workers are needed and any additional resources.

Topic summary

  • There is very little research on the role and impact of police in schools. We currently lack the research to comment on the impact of related programmes.
  • A lot of time, effort and money is currently invested in this approach in English and Welsh schools. Future work should prioritise rigorous evaluation so that we better understand the types of activity that lead to positive impacts. Evaluations should include measures of self-reported crime as well as recorded offences, to account for increased police presence leading to an increase in detection.

The Police in the Classroom study
A report of a recent RCT of a police in schools programme.

Episode 19 of the Reducing Crime podcast – an interview with Lorraine Mazerolle.
Lorraine Mazerolle, Professor of Criminology at the University of Queensland, describes her research on police in schools programmes. Click here for the transcript.

Downloads

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