Behaviour improves in schools with police on campus

Originally published in The Herald, 17/3/2010

Scottish schools that have a police officer stationed on campus have seen a reduction in incidents of physical violence and criminal activity, according to an official study.

An evaluation of the so-called “campus cops” initiative, commissioned by the Scottish Government, found the schools had also seen a reduction in the number of pupils excluded.

The study, by Ipsos MORI Scotland, said officers were particularly effective in schools where gang culture is prevalent.

However, researchers warned that positive pupil attitudes towards police that developed in schools were not replicated in the wider community.

The campus police officer initiative was launched in 2002 by Aberdeen City Council.

Currently, nearly half of local authorities are involved and the number of police officers has risen to 55 working in 65 schools, including St Mungo’s Academy in Glasgow.

Keith Brown, minister for skills and lifelong learning, welcomed the findings.

He said: “This research demonstrates the very positive contribution a campus police officer can make to a school.

“This is not about policing schools or criminalising pupils, but about intervening early to support young people.

“A police officer can be uniquely placed to act as a role model within the school environment, who pupils can interact with and learn from.”

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Scotland-wide Violence Reduction Unit, which is responsible for training campus officers, added: “These officers are a valuable part of community policing and their involvement with young people and schools is essential, not only in preventing crime but in fostering good relations with one of the most hard-to-reach and at-risk groups in our communities.”

However, Robert Brown, justice spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “Deploying officers to schools where they are not needed will mean fewer officers on the beat. It would have been far better to spend the £2 million involved in trialling this project on tackling the root causes of crime.

“Police officers should be engaging with local schools on a regular basis but there is no need for this continual presence.”

A spokesman for the EIS said: “There do remain areas of concern, such as the need for clear and defined responsibilities for school-based police officers.

“However, the evidence is that campus police can play a positive role in the operation of the schools in which they are deployed.”

The evaluation said: “Educational staff and campus officers held a common view that the presence of a campus officer could help to reduce serious indiscipline, physical violence, gang and criminal activity.”

The report said the view was supported by crime trends in two of the case study schools, but stressed it was not possible to attribute any decrease purely to the work of campus officers.

It said campus officers were likely to have the largest effect when deployed in schools where perceptions of the police were especially negative, where pupils lacked positive role models and which were situated in areas affected by gang activity.