An end to the Cops in Schools programme in South Auckland is raising fears for student safety. Morgan Tait reports.
The removal of specialist police officers from high risk South Auckland schools has been labelled “disappointing” and has some schools fearing for students’ safety.
Six officers were placed in 13 South Auckland high schools in 2009, in the much trumpeted Cops in Schools programme.
Cops in Schools has been credited for strengthening relationships between police and South Auckland communities, stamping out youth gangs and recruiting new officers.
This year, the officers – specially trained in dealing with young people – have been removed from the schools and reassigned to general Youth Aid duties.
Teachers and principals, while pragmatic about police resources, told Newsroom they are “disappointed” by the move and fear the negative consequences on students’ lives.
Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) president Michael Williams said Cops in Schools was an important social investment.
“The name makes it sound like it was there to solve school problems, but it was actually about solving community issues and where are the young people? They are at schools.
“I am very disappointed in the decision, it’s an initiative that has been going for a while and it was really good.
“At first it was about humanising the police to students, so when they saw them out of school they would think, ‘Oh there’s that cop from school, he’s actually a good guy.’
“But then it started evolving to the kids sidling up to the cops and talking about problems that they might be having at home.”
A staff member at one of the 13 schools, who did not wish to be identified, said they feared the consequences of losing the specialist officers.
“The school cop was doing a lot of preventative work behind the scenes. We could call him if there was any concern related to a pupil – if a student had run away from home, fights at school, they would help.
“We would use him in circumstances where we just can’t do anything ourselves – he would check on students in the holidays to make sure they were safe at home.
“We just don’t have the funding or the resources in a school to do the jobs that the school cop can do.”
Otahuhu College principal Neil Watson said while he would miss the police presence, he was pragmatic about the situation.
“Cops in Schools was introduced 10 years ago or pretty close to 10 years, and they did a really good job of building relationships between young people and the police in the wider community.
“Speaking for us, it was really beneficial for us and our community when it was first introduced but I think things change and move on.
“The work police are doing in the wider community and in primary schools is really very good. We are obviously disappointed it is gone but pleased with what it did and things move on and change.”
Counties Manukau Youth and Communities Manager Simon Walker said the decision was made to remove the specialist officers because they would be better in a wider pool of Youth Aid staff.
“It was assessed that qualified Youth Aid Cops in Schools staff would be better utilised working as Youth Aid officers, using their specialist knowledge and skills to respond to a broader range of young people than they were able to do while assigned to specific schools.
“As a result Cops in Schools have now been redeployed back to the Youth Aid Workgroup.”
Walker said there was still School Community Officers, Neighbourhood Policing Teams and Community Policing Teams that worked on relationship-building between police and the community.
“The level of engagement with individual schools is guided by an assessment of need. This assessment ensures that police resources are focused on the school communities most in need of support.”
The 13 schools covered by Cops in Schools included Otahuhu College, Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate, Tangaroa College, James Cook High School, Aorere College, Tamaki College, McAuley High School, Mangere College, De La Salle College, Southern Cross Campus and Manurewa High School.