APComm 2017: Children and young people feel intimidated by police, survey finds

Most young people have an indifferent or negative view of the police and view officers as authoritarian or scary, according to the findings of a survey carried out by the National Police Chiefs Council.

New approach required? A survey of young people found the majority had an indifferent or negative view of the police (pic credit:  STEVE LINDRIDGE / Alamy Stock Photo)
New approach required? A survey of young people found the majority had an indifferent or negative view of the police (pic credit: STEVE LINDRIDGE / Alamy Stock Photo)
The survey findings were presented in a session at the annual APComm conference of police comms professionals in Lincolnshire late last week and will form the basis of a two-year project to boost youth engagement with the police.

The NPCC surveyed 5,000 young people and conducted 120 face-to-face interviews with children and young people.

Survey findings

The survey found that: 

Most saw police officers as authority figures 

Most said that they felt anxious when they saw a police officer and that the police were not approachable and they felt intimidated and anxious in approaching officers or staff. 

Most did not want any contact with the police, but were interested in engagement with the police if it was through the right channel and with the right content. 

The survey also found that over half of those at school or college would like to be able to talk to police officers face-to-face in these settings and that nearly 80 per cent said police officers should be available to talk to on social media channels.

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they would dial 999 in an emergency but only 2.5 per cent understood that they should call 101 in a non-emergency situation.

The future of youth engagement 

Earlier this year, chief constable Olivia Pinkney, NPCC lead for policing children and young people, commissioned an intensive piece of work known as a ‘discovery’ by a multi-disciplinary team to understand children and young people’s needs and attitudes towards the police, in order to develop recommendations.

The discovery set out to answer what children and young people want to achieve by engaging with the police, how they want to do so and how police should engage with young people in the future.

The underlying challenge behind the work was that children and young people had traditionally interacted with the police via neighbourhood teams or school policing but were now spending increasing amounts of time online, leading officers to ask how they can achieve meaningful engagement with them, on- and offline.

As a result of the findings, the NPCC said it had received funding from the Home Office’s Police Transformation Fund to develop a two-year pilot project to increase youth engagement with the police.

The pilot will develop a schools engagement hub of expertise and resources and create a national digital engagement project to reach young people via social media channels.

Getting the tone right

Ruth Shulver, head of corporate comms at Surrey Police, hosted the APComm session where the survey results were presented.

She said: "Young people are a critical and often vulnerable group who we need to have confidence in us so that they seek help when they need it and know how to keep themselves as safe as possible."

Shulver said the survey revealed that young people wanted the police to be on digital platforms but that they would not follow their social media accounts.

She added: "What is perhaps surprising from the research is the value they still placed in face to face communication. We also know we need to maximise the power of children advocating on our behalf rather than all communication feeling official and having to come from us."

Shulver said it was crucial that police got the tone of its comms right and that the purpose of the APComm forum was to share best practice.

She concluded: "We don't want to be seen as 'dad dancing' in how we communicate and know we have more work we need to do to get our engagement right, but when we do we know it can be really effective and lead to children feeling heard and being protected."

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