School-based police officers reduce violence and support pupils

17 June 2013

Basing police officers in Scotland’s schools has led to a reduction in violence and other forms of anti-social behaviour and has helped to create improved educational experiences for many young people, according to a new report.

‘The Scottish Campus Officer: Past, Present and Future’ report [1] is based on interviews and focus groups conducted with serving officers carried out between 2011 and 2013. The majority of the 55 officers based in 65 Scottish secondary schools took part.

The role involves developing strong links with young people and their communities. Officers are assigned to schools where they build up relationships with pupils and staff, providing advice on topics ranging from bullying to drugs. 

The officers, also known as School Link Officers and School Liaison Officers in other parts of Scotland, also improve police intelligence available on areas surrounding schools, for example, identifying individuals who have been selling drugs or who are involved in gang-related violence.  

The report offers a unique insight into the effect that campus officers have had on their schools and on the lives of the young people they work with.

The interviews suggest:

  • A reduction in the number of police call outs to the schools and surrounding areas and a drop in the number of violent incidents, brought about by campus officers intervening in situations at an early stage
  • Better educational experiences for young people, such as officers working with hard-to-reach and vulnerable young people who hadn’t engaged with other avenues of support
  • Improved communications between troubled and troublesome youths and the police, leading to greater trust and the sharing of information which has then been used to support young people and to combat crime
  • A demand for more and better training for Campus Officers who have been assigned to schools

GCU’s Dr Liz Frondigoun, Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology and co-author of the report, said:

“Campus Officers were first deployed in Scottish Schools in 2002 but there has been little academic research to date into the role they play and the effect they have on the hundreds of young people with whom they work.

“Our work suggests that, in the main, Campus Officers have had a number of positive impacts, including reducing the number of violent incidents and call outs in and around schools and building strong, long-lasting relationships with pupils.

“These relationships have helped to support some hard-to-reach young people and they have also led to an improved flow of information which officers have used to combat criminal activity such as the sale of drugs and gang-related violence.”

The new report has been compiled by academics at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and Robert Gordon University (RGU) and supported by a grant from the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR).

It will be presented for the first time on Thursday, June 20 as part of GCU’s first annual research day.

Campus officers are coordinated by the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), a national centre of expertise on violence prevention.

Karyn McCluskey, Director of the Violence Reduction Unit, said: 

“Campus officers play a vital role in helping strengthen the relationship between the police, young people and the community. They’re not there to police schools, but to support the local area. The relationships they help to build can have the kind of positive impact that sees not just a reduction in crime but also an increase in young people from a whole range of backgrounds looking to join the police.”

Data was collected prior to the creation of the single Scottish Police Service on April 1, 2013. All of the eight Scottish Forces had school based of