Police Now’s Summer Academy: How do you get new recruits ready to be Police Officers in 6 weeks?

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Through an immensely creative training programme, full of sensitivity, humanity and challenge, that’s how.

Picture this: A room full of graduates and career changers, seated in groups and ready to learn from today’s session. They’re here on an intensive summer training course which aims to prepare these ambitious trainees for an immensely intense but rewarding profession. Sound familiar? Yes – but not quite.

This is Police Now’s Summer Academy, training up the first cohort of participants to become Police men and women, working as Dedicated Ward Officers across London. There are 69 of them, and soon they will be out in various London boroughs, working closely with the communities to tackle crime head-on and ensure that local people feel safe. They will be tackling another angle of the challenges around poverty and inequality that many Teach First teachers see playing out in schools and classrooms.

Crime in London often relies on the anonymity that comes from a big city – Dedicated Ward Officers tackle this by forging close relationships between the MPS and other partners in the local authority, NHS, housing associations and the local community. The participants will need to understand the problems in their area, and know all the prominent offenders and crime hotspots in their ward. They will need to think innovatively and creatively to work out the best ways to address these challenges long-term. This could be through enforcement – relentlessly targeting those who lead criminal lifestyles; or through engagement – offering support, help and advice. Most likely it will be a mixture of both.

It was no wonder, then, that the design of Police Now’s Summer Academy reflects the spirit of humility, innovation, humanity and commitment that they want to foster amongst their newest recruits. I was very lucky to be involved in early consultation around the design of Police Now’s programme. Along with a few other colleagues from Teach First, I’d been invited to share some of our insights from designing and leading our Summer Institute, and also what sort of year-long support our participants need in order to make the biggest impact in classrooms. Several months on, here I am visiting the training in action, and witnessing just how powerful – and moving – this particular lesson is.

A day in the life of Police Now’s Summer Academy

This morning’s topic is ‘Social Context’. The objectives are to understand the complex reasons that might lead an individual to commit crime, and to consider the context of that criminal activity. The session began with a case study exercise in groups, where participants were given some brief contextual information about a crime that had been committed, and the criminal and victims involved. They then had to answer some questions about the case studies, taking into account the limited information provided and the various biases that they might add to the situation. But this was just information on paper: stats, facts, statements. What brought it to life were the amazing stories from two reformed criminals, Bobby and Peter, who came to speak directly to the participants about their experiences.

Bobby, son of black immigrants in the 1960s, was orphaned as a child. He told his harrowing story of how he had been in and out of the care system, on the loose, on the run and forever spiralling closer and closer to a criminal life. He was beaten brutally whilst in various children’s homes, often used as a decoy whilst other children were being sexually abused in the home. Bobby said “Punishment didn’t mean anything to me. I’d been punished all my life, my whole life was punishment. So it didn’t work for me, it wasn’t the right approach. I had no respect for an Authority that just punished me”.

Peter, grandson to a bank-robber in Islington, grew up surrounded by a network of professional thieves and longed to be accepted into a community: “I just wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted them to like me”. Aged ten, he broke into a house and stole a biscuit-tin full of cash. He was congratulated by his grandfather, and so was sucked into a cycle of burglary, punishment, youth detention centres and ultimately fell prey to physical and sexual abuse.

Fortunately, these two stories had happy endings – both Bobby and Peter had something good happen to them that changed their lives and helped them to break that cycle. But as a learning experience, hearing their stories was an amazing opportunity because it helped us to understand the long back-story behind a moment of crime – and blurred the definitions of ‘criminal’ and ‘victim’.

The morning’s session closed with the participants re-visiting the questions they’d answered on the case study. They were asked to consider how they might change their answers given the insights afforded by Bobby and Peter’s stories – we’d just been given a completely different perspective.

Then, a quick change into uniform over lunch and they are off to their wards to shadow an existing Police Officer. Yesterday, one of the participants made their first arrest – they hit the ground running! In this way the Summer Academy balances challenging, thought-provoking sessions with practical experience on the streets. Through creative learning experiences like this, the participants learn the theory, put it into practice and then reflect on what they learn from that – about policing, about justice, and about themselves.

I have the greatest admiration for each of Police Now’s new participants who will be facing, albeit from a different perspective, some of the hugely complex challenges we as teachers face in our classrooms. It seems to me that this sensitive, stimulating and innovative programme will prepare them well.

This blog was originally posted by Laura House on Teach First’s community website.