Home > Police in the classroom. Evaluation of a three-wave cluster-randomised controlled trial.

Pósch, Krisztián and Jackson, Jonathan (2021) Police in the classroom. Evaluation of a three-wave cluster-randomised controlled trial. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Can police officers build relationships and trust with students in schools? Using a clustered-block-randomised design and a three-wave panel with 13-15-year-old students from 81 schools across England and Wales, we test the impact of officers getting involved in school education, where they meet young people in their space, and present sessions designed to engage and encourage discussion. 

The findings of this first-of-its-kind randomised controlled trial highlight one way to build positive relations between police and young people. Policing by consent underpins policing in the UK, and interactions with police officers are ‘teachable moments’ through which people learn about the law, its enforcement, and their own role and position within society. Positive contact helps to engender trust and legitimacy, and negative contact helps to damage people’s relationship with the law. Depending on the quantity and quality of people’s direct and indirect experiences with the law, teenagers and young adults can develop a healthy relationship with the law based on mutual understanding and respect, or an unhealthy relationship characterised by animosity and mistrust. The former has long been associated with more support for the law and legal compliance, while the latter has been shown to encourage cynicism, disobedience, and defiance. 

This project tested one way to engineer positive contact between officers and young people. Police officers from several forces across the UK were trained to deliver a ‘Drugs and the law’ session in a Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) class at various schools. Officers encountered the students in the classroom on their ‘own turf’, reducing the power-differential between the police and the pupils. The lesson plan included three activities designed to encourage young people to consider the typical police deliberations on, and responses to, young people who appear to be using drugs. The activities were designed to start a discussion and explain how the police would treat young people who are suspected of using drugs; outline which laws and procedures the police would follow; encourage the pupils to consider the perspective of young people, the police, and the community; and give pupils a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns regarding police conduct. The emphasis of the lesson was on perspective taking, i.e. understanding the reasons for and procedures of the police. These activities were also designed with procedurally just principles in mind to help the officer communicate respect, transparency, and fairness and the respect of legal boundaries

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