This piece was published in the NT Sun on April 3 2018.
SCHOOL BASED POLICE PROGRAM NEEDS REVAMP
School educators and the Council of Government Schools Organisation (COGSO) have realised a sad truth recently spelt out in the NT News (School calling for cop program March 17). The once strong and trend setting School Based Constables (SBC) program in NT schools has been rationalised and diminished.
This program has been reduced to a shadow of what it used to be. “COGSO president Tabby Fudge said the program had changed to a point where there was little benefit (to schools).” (Op cit)
Until watered down, the program offered strong support to urban, town and some rural schools. Attached to high schools, each School Based Constable had a number of feeder primary schools he or she attended. Constables would visit their schools to conduct Drug and Alcohol Education (DARE) classes with children. They extended their role to include stranger danger awareness and issues such as bullying. Children used to appreciate ‘their’ constable in a way that helped them build positive feelings toward police. In turn, constables learned a lot that added to their awareness of community matters. Many potential problems were nipped in the bud because of advanced warning about situations that might eventuate.
No words can mask the fact that this program has been significantly dismantled. School Based Police are now known as Community and Youth Engagement Officers (CYEO’s). They are no longer based in schools but visit (a lot less frequently than in the past) from suburban and town police stations. DARE programs have lapsed, along with the contribution SBC’s made to the sharing of children’s learning and the development of their attitudes.
Chief Minister Gunner, who is also the Police Minister said, “… police are still involved with youth, it is just being done in a different way.” (Op cit) The new way is a watered down version of the original program.
The ‘personality’ of this program, was such that while adults may have had adverse thoughts about police, their children were developing positive attitudes about the force.
A point of alarm is that the training of police to fill this particular role has been largely discontinued. It may not be long before the program, one of Territory significance and copied by state and overseas jurisdictions, will be extinct.
The reinstatement of School Based Policing as it was previously organised, would be a step in the right direction. On April 12, COGSO’s President is meeting with Mr Gunner to urge this reinstatement. I can only hope her persuasion bears fruit.