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Bobbies on the beat at Ipswich school

PUBLISHED: 21:15 22 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:43 03 March 2010

YOU don't often see police officers in schools. However this is set to change thanks to a pilot scheme whose mission is to stamp on mistrust and disrespect and build a new relationship.

YOU don't often see police officers in schools. However this is set to change thanks to a pilot scheme whose mission is to stamp on mistrust and disrespect and build a new relationship.

Victoria Knowles joined Pc Martin Sheeran on one of his weekly visits to Holywells High School to find out if this relationship really can work.

Admit it, when you see a police officer the immediate reaction is to check what you are doing, look behind you or glance at the speedometer.

This is the reaction Pc Sheeran got when one morning he walked in to Holywells High. The resounding cry of, "Who are you here to arrest?"

However today the reaction is different, at break time children flock round him eager to speak to him and be spoken to. A relationship is being forged and in Pc Sheeran's words he is, "breaking down the barriers".

He is part of a pilot scheme which has been running since the beginning of this school year. Pc Sheeran will go in to the school one day a week and basically spend time with the children. It is high visibility policing of a very different kind.

Holywells is the first school in the area to be involved and so far it is going well. "This is really good because we never normally get very well received by youngsters. Now they recognise me the response has totally changed. Now the children come up to me and ask me to sort problems out and talk to me about lots of different things.

I am starting to relate to them and they appreciate that I am here to help and work with them and not to cause them problems," said Pc Sheeran.

The children seem to agree and while the play ground became full of the usual chaos they spoke to the Star about this new person in their midst.

Pc Sheeran in inundated with children gathering around him. Childhood curiosity has conquered some of the ideas and opinions these children held. The opinions of a generation before are now being gradually dismantled, hopefully in favour of a far more open and respectful relationship.

"It is better now he is here because he can sort things out. I think of policemen differently now, I thought they just arrested you but now I know that they can help you to," said 11-year-old Jamie Debenham.

Steven Ford, also 11, said: "I just like him. Before I didn't think they were very nice but he helps sort things out for us and he is easy to talk to."

"When I first saw him I thought someone was in trouble but now I see he is actually here to stop the trouble happening. He joins in with us and is easy to speak to," said 11-year-old Lacey Rangel.

The scheme is part of a national initiative and it stemmed from the work the police were doing with Holywells last year. It is also part of a wider initiative known as the South East Ipswich Partnership which is making great strides in improving the community.

Sergeant Becky Kidd-Stanton believes the scheme will help the community as a whole. "The school community and the wider community will benefit. We want to get in to the school and instil citizenship into youngsters. These are the youngsters who may have been in trouble in later years.

"Everyone in the whole area has welcomed the idea. They have always said we need to be working with the children and now we are pleased to be able to do so. Unfortunately things like this are not cheap and it is great we are able to release Martin one day a week to do this valuable work.

"Originally it was only going to run until December but we realised it would have to be longer to see the real benefit. Now we are looking at a time to evaluate it and see if it could be used successfully in other schools."

Pc Sheeran spends the whole day at the school once a week, He sits in with lessons, does P.E and eats lunch with them. His objective is to become part of the fabric of the school. To become an accepted member of the school system and help the children to realise the wider implications of policing.

After break he was in the success maker suite where children can get intensive help with reading. The group was small and while the children worked it was clear that Pc Sheeran had been accepted. He worked with the children unhindered by his uniform or the negative associations it used to have for some of them.

"It is important that they see me as human and not just a uniform to come and arrest them. It is working and now the children are coming to me with their problems and issues. Their reaction has improved greatly and now they want to talk," said Pc Sheeran.

Mike Moran is associate head at Holywells and believes the scheme is important in building a relationship of trust and mutual respect.

"Martin has to become accepted as a man and as a police officer. This is why it is important he comes in uniform so that the children accept the whole thing. Martin uses the teachers staff room and all the other classrooms we do so that there is no division. There is no concept of them and us."

The school is pleased with the progress so far and hopes that it will expand to develop links outside the school.

Dave Siddall is assistant head at the school and said the scheme has had positive feedback from the pupils. "It is going extremely well and the kids are getting on really well with him. He is already the community beat officer and so this builds on this.

Martin is part of the bigger picture and in the future it is hoped it will develop links in the wider community with parents and other groups. They are relating to him, enjoying his company and respecting his views."

Although the scheme is only in its infancy it is hoped that if it is successful it will be brought in to other schools.

Next year citizenship is going to become part of the national curriculum and this is a great way to bring practical changes about while teaching valuable lessons to the children.

"This is a long term scheme and while we will see results in the short term it is the long term where the real results will be seen. The school and the police want to see the scheme flourish and to help the wider community.

"Parents will hopefully become aware of the work we are doing and realise that there is an officer they can turn to and trust. If they see positive things coming from the police then the relationship will be built," said Sergeant Kidd-Stanton.

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