By Harriet Whitehead
Meet the mini police officers who are keeping the streets in order in their home town after being recruited by the local police force to help out in the community.
Youngsters from school Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School in Runcorn, Cheshire, have been assisting officers and helping to improve relationships between police and the local residents.
Kitted out in their own police uniforms, the 10 and 11 year olds have been speed checking, picking up litter and collecting for local food banks in a bid to improve the area they live in.
The scheme has been hailed a success by co-ordinator PCSO Paul Barker, of Cheshire Police, after it launched six months ago.
PCSO Barker, who heard about the project during a conference on organised crime, said: “It’s a fantastic scheme which educates young people about responsibility and the importance of contributing positively to their community.
“The mini police team was mentioned as a way of helping tackle organised crime especially in the communities where there had been difficulties.
“In the area I cover there have been operations tackling serious drugs gangs and quite a lot of the dads had been to prison.
“When you take away these patriarchal figures from families it affects the relationship they have with the police.
“I thought the mini police scheme sounded a great way to win back hearts and minds by having the youngest members engage with the things that matter in the community.
“It drip feeds back and helps rebuild trust, and we’ve found it has calmed things.
“It’s very much led by the children. We asked them what was going wrong and what the issues were and they came back with cars being driven too fast near schools, the estate being dirty with litter and lots of people not having enough money or being able to look after themselves.”
The mini police have assisted PCSOs with speed checks, collected for food banks under Operation Italian Job and Operation Can Do as well as taken part in litter picks and a bottle brick scheme to help convert plastic bottles into bricks.
And this week they served Christmas dinners to the elderly at a community event aimed at tackling loneliness.
PCSO Barker said: “What they do is find ways they can challenge issues themselves in a safe and non-confrontational way that will make an impact in the community.
“They really enjoy it. When I pop into school they always ask ‘are we doing mini police today?’
“I couldn’t have wished for a better school to pilot the scheme. There’s a real personal drive within the children. They’re confident and when you take them out they engage with people effortlessly.
“These are children who are out in the communities where they live – they’ll see family members when they’re out and about.
“They’ve been doing an amazing job over the last few months working hard to make their community a safer and happier place to live.
“They are a real asset to Runcorn local policing unit and a brilliant addition to the policing family.”
John McDonald, headteacher of Holy Spirit Primary School, said: “The children are enjoying the deepening relationship with community and seeing themselves make a difference.
“They have gained a greater insight into local problems and now see themselves as solution finders. I have seen them visibly grow before my eyes.”
The scheme is funded by the Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.