Police in schools will disproportionately inhibit BAME and LGBTQ pupils

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‘Black Lives Matter’ is an ingenious piece of political messaging because it hits on something so emphatically undeniable that to try to alter or contradict it is to reveal profound ignorance. A powerful and undeniable phrase that shines an ultraviolet light on some of our society’s most uncomfortable truths, privileges and injustices.

As the recent protests and social media campaigns have shown, there are lots of ways that all of us can help but I want to highlight one campaign that should strike a chord with anyone of a liberal persuasion and that is the campaign against school-based police officers.

For context I strongly urge Liberal Democrat colleagues across the country – and especially in the North West of England – to follow Kids of Colour and Northern Police Monitoring Project on social media. The two organisations have set up the ‘No Police In Schools’ campaign in response to the proposed roll out of school-based officers (SBPOs) by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

Burnham claims the officers will help tackle violent crime amongst young people but, in reality, his proposal will change schools from places of support and safety, to places of punitive social control with young people of colour and those who are LGBTQ disproportionately inhibited as a result. Aside from the distinct absence of any meaningful consultation with students, parents, teachers or community groups there is also a distinct lack of evidence that school-based policing leads to a reduction in violent crime amongst young people. According to the British Medical Journal, the hours between which under 16s are at the highest risk from violent crime are 4pm – 6pm, so an approach that places an officer inside a school during school hours is unlikely to be a deterrent.

In the United States – where SBPOs are more commonplace – there has been a notable spike in racially motivated arrests contributing to the ‘school to prison pipeline’. Here in the UK we know that existing police initiatives such as ‘Stop and Search’ and ‘Operation Sycamore’ already mean that young people of colour are ove- policed. New SBPOs in Manchester look likely to be disproportionately placed in working class communities and communities with higher proportions of students of colour.

SBPOs also cause significant complications when it comes to sexual health and education. In the Northwest, young people have access to organisations like Brook, who exist to provide support and sexual health advice. That advice is immediately compromised when a Police Officer is present. Underage sex remains a crime and unlike social workers, police officers cannot exercise discretion. When these services shut down, we know that it is LGBTQ young people who are hit hardest, as the curriculum still leaves them broadly unrepresented.

Opposition to the over policing of communities of colour is an essential aspect of Anti-Racist activism. Schools are not the place for police officers and serious questions need to be asked of anyone – particularly a Labour Mayor – who advocates SBPOs. I want to see the Liberal Democrats tackle this issue head on. If you are a council candidate – talk about it in your literature. If you are a member – be outspoken on social media, bring it up at your next social event and ask about it at Leadership hustings and advocate a public health approach to violent crime. Write to your MP and follow, donate and support organisations that are leading change.

* Shaun Ennis is a Lib Dem campaigner for Trafford in Greater Manchester and part of the team organising the Shirley Williams Lectures.

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  • John Marriott 9th Jun '20 - 2:39pm

    When I was a County Councillor and a member of the local Police Authority (RIP) one of the secondary in my patch had an office for our local community police officer from where he and his team operated and, believe me, it seemed to work really well. The officer concerned was a very approachable guy, who got on really well with the youngsters. Admittedly, there weren’t many students ‘of colour’ in our community, after all this was Lincolnshire. However, nobody seemed to object. Unfortunately because of financial cuts, I believe that the practice has been abandoned, although warranted officers and PCSO’s are still welcomed in our local schools and many do visit.

    Mr Ennis may have a point; but I can’t help feeling that what he is advocating is creating a problem that, in many parts of the country, really isn’t there.

  • Shaun Ennis 9th Jun '20 - 3:22pm

    Hi John. Thanks for your comment. I specifically write from a Greater Manchester perspective although I welcome your view as former councillor with experience from elsewhere in the country.

    The issue is very much ‘here’ when it comes to Greater Manchester and that was driven home to me when I attended my first No Police In Schools campaign meeting. Hearing the first hand experiences from teachers and sexual health workers I then became aware of the detrimental impact on young people of colour and LGBTQ students.

    The two organisations have case studies from officers who themselves have expressed concerns that the strategy is wrong for the city region.

    As a party we have been right to advocate a public health approach as seen in Glasgow – I think that approach boast broader consent from the communities and certainly have enjoyed greater success in combatting violent crime.

  • This article’s conclusions are a complete no-no for anyone who feels that they are a Liberal Democrat beyond the divisive politics of identity.

    Policing by Consent is the cornerstone of a Liberal perspective on Policing, and encouraging Local Police and the communities win which they serve.

    Certainly in my Local Authority, Serious Youth Violence (SYV) is a significant form of reported violence, and is specifically concentrated where the demographics of suspects and victims tend to be from large, very low income single parent families, living in overcrowded properties, where residents feel highly affected by crime and vandalism, with increased probability in suffering from both physical and mental health issues. The report finds that SYV common key indicators are domestic abuse, child neglect, older siblings in crime & ASB, school behaviour, and cannabis use.

    Sex education is surely part of the Sciences curriculum and has nothing to do with Police attending schools and liaising with school children or advice they may seek from specialist services.

    As someone who’s been part of my local community’s Safer Neighbourhood Team ward panel for many years, I’m a strong believer in the Policing by consent model, and so urge fellow Liberal Democrats to let the ‘No Police in Schools’ campaign to wither as it must, and instead support UK models like the Safer Neighbourhood Teams by getting involved in your own neighbourhood panel, especially if you are in a more deprived neighbourhood, to see how local Police can build stronger relationships with Local schools so school children see their local Police for and part of them, and not as enemies.

  • marcstevens 9th Jun '20 - 5:48pm

    I agree with John. Our local PCSO goes into schools and engages with young people. This has proved very popular and as a ward panel of members from varying backgrounds, we welcome this approach and will continue to do so. There are also police from BAME and LGBTQ communities in my area.

  • Thank you for this Shaun. Having seen the police deal poorly with a young person driven from their place of education by homophobic bullying (including a direct threat) I support you fully.

  • I think there are two different interpretations of what “schools-based” actually means.
    If you take the meaning John Marriott takes, namely that the community police had an office base at a school and so came into regular contact with the school children as they policed the neighbourhood around the school and so built up a relationship then there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. However, I suspect what Andy Burnham means by SBPOs is something where the police take an active interest in the policing of the school and its pupils, which does present problems as it really only entrenches the role of the police as being outside of the community and thus weakens the idea of policing by consent (and respect).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Jun '20 - 2:35pm

    Sorry, no, Shaun, the party ought not have that view or attitude, in your city or not. It ought to be more arms length and sensible, it means look at the comments, there is a middle way. John Leach and swearing on the cover, of literature, knee jerk anti tough on crime stances, now this, the party is going to sink there.

    Those who support knee jerk tough or soft, laissez faire, authoritarianism, one or t’other, are not promoting as of ever, any kind of Liberalism.

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