17 Aug Cops Hop on Skateboards
British Force Hopes to Show Skateboarding Kids That They’re Part of the Crowd.
In the war against crime, some British police officers have a new and unlikely weapon at their disposal: skateboards.
(ABC News)At the initiative of a community council, the Hampshire County Police Department in southern England is sending a handful of uniformed officers to join a group of 11- to 17-year-olds for twice-weekly skateboarding workshops at a park.
Organizers hope the program will improve the police’s community relations.
“Skateboarding leads to a better rapport between young people and the police officers,” said Sam Mitchell, 28, a community development officer with the Gosport Borough Council, which proposed the scheme.
“When police are involved in these kinds of activities,” she told ABC News, “kids realize they are just normal people.”
While Hampshire police officers won’t be doing pivots, heelflips or otherwise getting around on skateboards while on duty, organizers expect the program to cut crime.
“One of the main aims was to create a diversionary activity so young people wouldn’t engage in anti-social behavior,” said Mitchell of the initiative, which was designed to coincide with summer holidays here.
After a similar program last year — one that involved soccer instead of skateboards and that was implemented simultaneously with an increase in neighborhood policing — a Gosport neighborhood saw crime drop 28 percent from the year before, organizers told ABC News.
Workshops are held at a skate park outfitted with ramps for skilled boarders and a promenade for those feeling less confident.
About 30 youngsters and two to five officers turn up for each class.
Police attendance rates vary depending on whether “there are other instances that require the officers’ attention, more serious than this,” Mitchell said.
Then “they’ll be called away,” she said.
All skateboarding students are supposed to wear helmets for protection.
But their teacher says the younger students clearly have the upper hand.
“The kids try to teach the police some tricks,” skateboarding instructor Geoff Else, 23, told ABC News. “I think that’s what they really like. Rather than the adults being in charge, the kids know more, and I think that makes the kids feel good.”
“It’s a really good way of destroying the stereotype that kids have of police officers,” Else added. “They’ve found a common interest.”
Mitchell said reactions from the younger participants in the workshop have been unanimously positive.
As for the officers, she said, while most enjoy the ride, “some of them are not keen to get on the skateboard.”
Those not willing to try their hand at a kickflip, nosegrind or other backbreaking moves will not be forced to do so, Mitchell said.
“They can watch young people demonstrate their skills,” Mitchell said. “It’s more the emphasis on them being there.”
But some of Hampshire’s police officers are excited to learn.
Community support Officer Stephen Dean, 22, told Britain’s Daily Mail his skills had improved considerably since he started coming to class.
“I can properly ride the board now,” Dean said, “whereas before I just fell off the whole time.”
Dean said he thought the project had improved the police department’s public image.
“All the kids recognize me now in the street and say, ‘Hello,'” he told the Daily Mail. “So I think it’s given me more kudos.”
But not everybody is convinced skateboards are the best way of getting in with the young crowd or combating crime.
“I don’t think it’ll give them much street cred,” said Luke Gordon, 31, a postal worker from London and a former skateboarder, as he stood outside a London pub Thursday afternoon.
“I think it’d be a lot easier for them to gain respect in other ways,” he said. “They shouldn’t be buddies with them.”
But Mitchell said being tough was only one part of the police’s job.
“One element of the police role is to arrest people and to have that respect,” she said. “But the police also have a responsibility to be approachable so people can confide in them.”
“The kids see them more as people rather than just law enforcement,” he said. “It makes them slightly more approachable, and that’s important.”
Source: ABC News | Aug. 17, 2007