06/01/2012 16:56 GMT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 GMT

How Young People 'Trading Places' with the Police Can Help Communities

The Crib's Trading Places workshops in Hackney, east London, is a programme which enables young people to trade places with police, teachers, prison wardens and older people in the community. In these sessions, young people reverse roles with the chosen professionals giving the young people and the professionals the opportunity to see how they are perceived by the other. Looking at how to deal with issues both sides face on a daily basis, getting a better understanding of each other through dialogue and role playing. It builds trust and respect within the community and the organizations which work with young people.

The Crib has run these sessions with the Metropolitan Police for the past 10 years in local youth offender centres and community centers, to help build trust and understanding for both the young people and police. It has helped to build strong relationships with young people, local SNT (Safer Neighbourhood Team) and community police groups. Its effectiveness shows not only in our evaluation but there is significant improvement in communication between young people and police in a number of areas we have worked in.

I remember being part of the two-day pilot session in 2002. We came into the Crib not knowing what to expect from the session, what could we possibly say to the police and what could they tell us that we would actually listen to? I was 15 at the time and to be honest, all we wanted to do was to have our weekly table tennis competition.

The police arrived and they turned up in two vans and if I remember correctly there were at least nine of them for that first session. Everyone seemed uneasy with their presence as it looked more like a raid to be honest. However, they came wearing plain clothes. The session was not how I imagined, Janette project manger for The Crib had to stimulate the discussion because she could sense that none of us wanted to talk to the police. Eventually after a few games that broke the ice, we started discussing issues that affect us, this was our chance to get our voice heard and if anything would happen after this was yet to be seen. We spoke about police tactics, stop and search, profiling, stereotypes, legal rights, and the justice system. It was very interesting talking about all these things and seeing thing from a different perspective. It was all done in a respectful manner as everyone had equal say. This was then followed by role reversal role playing between us and the police. An example of a scenario we had to do was that a group of young people were hanging around on the stairwell in block on the estate, a concerned resident calls the police to come and move them along because of the noise and what looks like fighting. So now we have the scenario, we now had to act as the police who turned up to deal with the situation, and the police were acting as the young people who were only play fighting with each other and having a laugh.

As the police officers, we started off with the nice approach, but the police officers acting as young people did not go easy on us, they made it extremely difficult to resolve the situation. I think they have vast experience dealing with scurrilous youth because they were doing a good job. Eventually we had to use force and make them move along.

The second day was really interesting because the police now had to come in with their full uniform and the dynamics of the session changed. There was a sense of animosity between us and the police, even though it was with the same officers from the day before. We were less interactive and there was less of dialogue between us and them.

Overall Janette was happy with how the pilot session went and it has now been going on with young people all over Hackney and Islington for the past 10 years. The aim was to help build better relations with the police and young people. The reaction over the two days has not changed much when we run the session with the current crop of Crib youth. Over the two days there is more interaction on the day when the police are not in uniform. Even with all our efforts to create better relations with the police there is still a strong sense of hate, animosity between many young people and the police.

During a post riot discussion we had, many young people condemned the looters and the arsonists. They were saying why were they destroying their own communities, some said had they been involved, their anger would have been to support those who were attacking the police. One of the young people in that session said that "if they were smart the would have organised and focussed all their energy on attacking the police instead of trying on trainers outside JD." This is a young man who is not involved in gangs or any criminal activity, he says he is tired of fitting a description of every black boy when a crime is committed. He went on to say its not the inconvenience of being stopped but the way people look at him when he is being stopped that angers him, he says it makes him feel like a criminal and that they all have assumptions about him which in turn perpetuate stereotypes about young black males.

This is exactly why we we work hand in hand with the police and safer neighbourhood teams to make a positive difference. Seems like all it take is one significant event to erase all the hard work, nevertheless we keep TRYING!