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Hackney police schools’ team deals with Snapchat and Instagram cyberbullying, gang fights and knives

PUBLISHED: 08:29 18 November 2016 | UPDATED: 08:29 18 November 2016

Members of the safer schools police team based at Stoke Newington Police Station. (Pictures: Polly Hancock)

Members of the safer schools police team based at Stoke Newington Police Station. (Pictures: Polly Hancock)

Archant

After a worrying increase in seizures of weapons at Hackney schools, Emma Bartholomew catches up with the police team that has been working for more than a decade to keep our kids safe and on the right side of the law.

PC Paul Petersen, based at Stoke Newington Police Station (Photo: Polly Hancock) PC Paul Petersen, based at Stoke Newington Police Station (Photo: Polly Hancock)

In the past, rivalries between schoolchildren might have played out on the football pitch or in the classroom. Today, it’s more likely kids will come home and post a comment on Instagram or Snapchat.

That’s the view of Sgt Ian Turner, who helps lead Hackney’s schools police.

Sgt Turner tells the Gazette social media has opened up a whole new can of worms for youngsters – and the officers tasked with trying to keep them safe.

Cyber crimes his team might investigate include kids being sent sexual messages and photos, or threats like “I’m going to come down and shank you”. In some instances kids might even create fake profiles to make life harder for their victims.

VIEW FROM THE HEAD:

The principal of Skinners’ Academy has labelled Sian Berry’s comments about the effectiveness of police officers in schools “naïve”.

The Green Assembly Member said there was no correlation between the number of “safer schools” officers rates of youth offending locally, meaning they weren’t value for money. Her comments came after the London mayor suggested he would expand their use, and make sure every school in London had a linked police officer.

Tim Clark said Pc Paul Petersen, who works with his school in Woodberry Grove as well as Stoke Newington School and Our Lady’s Convent, is “worth his weight in gold”. “An awful lot of what a good police liaison officer does is prevent issues,” he added. “To say there’s no statistical correlation is naive in the extreme. Were we to take Paul out of the equation we would see far more pupils getting into scrapes. Many issues he deals with would run the risk of escalating were he not able to nip them in the bud because of his relationship with us.”

The effect of cyberbullying on Hackney’s children can be devastating.

Sgt Turner explained: “They withdraw and their confidence goes down. It can go as far as children committing suicide.

“The difference when it’s on social media is more people can join in, because you are in the comfort of your own home and you are watching these comments going backwards and forwards. A nasty comment might be made against somebody and lots of others might ‘like’ it.”

Kids won’t necessarily see that as an offence, but it comes under “malicious communications”, and any child over the age of criminal responsibility (10) can be found guilty.

Tim Clark, Principal of Skinners' Academy Tim Clark, Principal of Skinners' Academy

Schools call in Sgt Turner’s team to deal with persistent offenders they’ve had no joy in taming. Police might invite parents to school to discuss the potential consequences with the child, which could involve a court punishment.

If the culprits carry on, police will interview them under caution – something Sgt Turner’s team had to do three times last term.

“There is a big myth that if they’ve deleted it off their phone it’s disappeared,” he said, “but it’s not the case. There’s always that cyber-footprint in the clouds, and we can apply for information from the servers to get evidence of the offence.”

Cyberbullying is difficult, time-consuming and costly to investigate, because specialists have to adhere to certain rules to ensure the integrity of the evidence.

Safer Schools Police Team based at Stoke Newington Police Station (Photo: Polly Hancock) Safer Schools Police Team based at Stoke Newington Police Station (Photo: Polly Hancock)

“Schools officers” were introduced in 2002 to reduce youth and street crime and to break down barriers between young people and police.

Paul Petersen has been on the Hackney schools team since 2003. He remembers meeting opposition from staff as well as pupils, some of whom would actually pretend to shoot him as he walked down the corridor.

But while schools used to ask police to stay away for Ofsted inspections, they’ll now invite them in to highlight their partnership work, and kids are respectful and grateful for their presence.

Paul said: “When I was at the school gates kids would come up to me who were maybe part of a gang and they would jab me in the back. That to me was them saying hello. They didn’t want to be seen with their mates coming up and saying: ‘Hi, Pc Paul.’

"There is a big myth that if children have deleted something off their phone then it’s disappeared. That’s not the case"

Sgt Ian Turner

“They might whisper ‘fight over [at the] park’, and that was great. Or if a fight happened it happened there right next to you, and there was a reason for that – because the kids knew you would be there and be able to stop it straight away. Little things like that make you think: ‘That’s nice’.”

There are now 10 police officers and two PCSOs working in Hackney schools – each of the 14 secondary schools is assigned one. They also deal with child protection issues, violent assaults, missing children and child sexual exploitation.

This week Green Assembly Member Sian Berry questioned the effectiveness of police teams in schools, saying there was no proof youth offending had gone down.

But Sgt Turner told the Gazette: “How do you quantify the effectiveness of something that never happens because we have prevented it from happening?

“You can’t put a value on it if we have gone into a school and educated a young person not to carry a knife and then he doesn’t stab someone with it and then that person isn’t dead.”

Pc Petersen remembers how there have been “tears on the unit”. David Novak was stabbed to death in 2007 and Etem Celebi was fatally shot in the same year. Pc Petersen had been speaking with him just four hours before at the school gate.

“You know those kids and that some of them may be troublesome and have issues but nobody deserves that. You start thinking to yourself: ‘Was there something more I could have done?’ You do go home and worry about it.”

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