Improving policing by engaging hard to reach young people: Guest blog from Katy Bourne, Sussex PCC
Even before I was elected to become the first Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), I could see that a lot of young people felt disconnected from the police, and the police themselves were telling me they found it hard to reach young people and open up meaningful dialogue.
I launched the first Sussex Youth Commission (SYC) in 2014, recruiting 28 volunteers aged 14-25 to conduct a county-wide “big conversation” with their peers and friends to help inform and challenge my policing strategy for young people. Over the past two years, our SYC members have reached out to over 4,000 young people, many from hard-to-reach groups who do not normally engage with the police.
It certainly helped that my Youth Commission members had a broad range of experiences, making them credible and easy to relate to. One of our SYC members had been homeless, another had a record of offending, and some had experienced drug or alcohol problems themselves or suffered substance-related abuse at home. Some had experienced cyber bullying and others had experienced hate crime for their disability.
The involvement of the voluntary sector has helped the SYC gain access to organisations that represent a variety of marginalised groups. Through talking to participants in spaces and on terms with which they feel comfortable, an honest and rich debate has been possible, and this has resulted in a wealth of responses from a diverse cross-section of the youth population in Sussex.
Members of the SYC met with the Allsorts support group for LGBT teens in Brighton. They conducted two workshops, one on hate crime with a younger teens group and one on relations with the police with an older teens group. The sessions were conducted in a safe and trusted space, where participants felt comfortable and able to be honest. Participants provided positive feedback about Sussex Police’s work and engagement with the LGBT community.
Two workshops were carried out with Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI) in Hastings focusing on relations with the police. Of the young people present, some came from troubled families and backgrounds, some were ex-offenders and some had experienced substance misuse. This was another good example of how working with voluntary organisations helped the SYC to hear the views of young people who the police would ordinarily struggle to engage with.
In 2014 and 2015, the SYC presented their findings and recommendations to me and to Sussex Police, and I’m delighted that on both occasions the Chief Constable accepted the challenge of change and tasked a team of officers with exploring and implementing the recommendations.
One of the recommendations was to set up a Youth Independent Advisory Group (IAG) as a safe environment in which police and young people could test and challenge policing developments such as stop and search, dealing with psychoactive substances and legal highs, and policing the night-time economy. Another innovative idea was the Youth Pact, which will help guide police relations with young people, and build mutual respect and trust.
Sussex Police and other partners are committed to working with the SYC again this year, and to continuing to improve police-youth relationships. The SYC will be turning consultation and research into action and visible, positive change. We will particularly focus on the factors that make young people susceptible to extreme behaviours and bad choices, including substance abuse, gang culture and anti-social behaviour, and on young people’s vulnerability to exploitation, both online and offline.
Winning a Compact Award has been a very welcome and motivating accolade for the efforts of our existing Youth Commission members, and it will help them to be great mentors for our new members. The Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner continues to work with the voluntary sector in many different ways, and I hope the future will bring more opportunities for joined-up working and shaping policy together.