Should there be police presence in schools?

The manifesto of the UK’s children’s commissioner has just been published, which called for police units to be added to schools. In the criminology community, several people called this out arguing that continued police presence in schools could foster the criminalisation of youthful escapades and mischief.

While I agree that teachers should not rely on Bobbies to enforce school regulation , a limited police presence could be beneficial to increase trust and boost cooperation. Or could it? In a recently started research project funded by the Physical Social Health and Economics (PSHE) Association and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), this is what we try to figure out.

In fact, police officers have been involved in delivering PSHE lessons in some of the schools and regions of England on topics such as drugs, or online safety education. But we do not know what impact this has had on the students’ knowledge and perception of the issues, the police, and the justice system in general.

With me as the lead researcher, and Jon Jackson contributing, we designed a clustered-block-randomised controlled trial to estimate the causal effect of having a police officer giving a lesson on drugs and policing, compared to either a teacher delivering the same content, or there being no lesson at all. We assess whether having an officer in the classroom talk about the harms of drugs and the realities of policing is an important moment of legal socialisation among young people, particularly because the officer is meeting them in their space to present sessions designed to engage and encourage discussion.

To estimate the causal effect at both the individual and aggregate level, we use a clustered-block-randomised design and a three-wave panel with children from hundreds of schools across England. Our robust design permits multiple ways of analysing the data, to answer this question, including the assessment of matched school trios, multilevel modelling, spillover-effects, etc.

The data collection will start in the coming weeks with the baseline survey in more than a hundred schools. Our interim report is expected to be published at the end of April, and the final report at the end of July.

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