Following the news this week that the Government has accepted an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to prevent 17-year-olds from being held overnight in police custody, our Young Trustee Thivya Jeyashanker shares her thoughts on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s report into children and the police.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure to attend the APPGC inquiry into “Children and the Police” in Parliament to see the launch of their report.
I was curious to hear the report’s findings about the relationship between young people and the police. It was clear to me from a young age that a lot of the young people around me were either indifferent or untrusting of the police; however it was never clear to me why such friction existed. This is because I, on the other hand, attended a high school which had strong ties with the local police. We had a designated police officer, who would come into assemblies and give presentations on his role and what he did. He was not there to scare, threaten or lecture us but rather to talk to us as equals about the importance of upholding the law. We knew where he was based, and what he did, and knew we could go to him for help. He was approachable, funny and overall a great police officer who regularly interacted with the students in the school.
From the inquiry, I can see that this is not always replicated across the country. It’s sad to know that children and young people grow up to see the police, who are there to protect them, as untrustworthy. The inquiry highlights that the reason for this negative perception is because their interactions with the police have not been positive. The most upsetting piece of information I read from the report was that there were examples of young people who were being treated like adults, for example being placed in adult holding facilities in police custody. I can’t possible begin to imagine the sort of negative consequences this can have for those young people. Baroness Massey, who chairs the parliamentary group, made the important point that “in every encounter with the police, under-18s [should be] treated as children first”.
The report outlined many important suggestions in order for this to be rectified. For example all police custody facilities should have a separate area for children and young people. At the event there was a 19-year-old police officer who believed that young people have a negative perception of the uniform rather than the person behind it. He stressed the importance of young people getting to know the person to help restore faith in the uniform. I agree, and believe the reason why the police officer at my school was able to enforce a positive perception of the police was because he knew how to communicate with us. It is really important that police training is reviewed to improve understanding of issues affecting children and young people and to improve communication, another recommendation in the report. There shouldn’t have to be a middle organisation that gets children and young people to communicate with the police. It is important that the police are confident in independently engaging with young people.
I hope that more people become aware of the report in order to raise awareness of the issues and the recommendations that were suggested. The event gave me confidence that the inquiry was taken very seriously by MPs, peers, police and representatives from charities and other organisations and that these different sectors were all committed to ensuring that young people had a positive relationship with the police.
Thivya Jeyashanker, NCB Young Trustee