Teenagers get a bad press. Hardly a week goes by without a stabbing, news of the rise in teenage pregnancies, falling academic standards…but the ‘stop and search’ law is as bad as the media in tarring all teenagers with the same brush.
Last week our 13-year-old son, on holiday for Easter from his private school, arranged to meet friends at Tooting Bec tube station, a five-minute walk from our house. With nary a hoodie in sight, he set off, only to be stopped by a police officer who asked him what he was doing.
The assumption was that he was playing truant from school, the police not quite realising that private schools had already broken up. Once my son had explained, things were fine, but the policeman still had to spend 20 minutes filling out form 5090 – in case there was any ‘comeback’ apparently.
Such PC idiocy from a PC is truly ridiculous: he wasted 20 minutes when he could have been doing real police work, and made my son late. At least he didn’t search him…even so, the form makes for comical reading. The reason for stopping him? ‘Presence in area’. So, what to do, mums? Keep our children in all day playing on the computer?
I phoned our local police station to complain about this over-zealous approach and to check that there isn’t a record against my son. Would you stop me?’ I asked. ‘No, you don’t fit the profile’. So, teenagers – particularly boys – are being stopped even if they’re doing nothing wrong, simply because they’re teenage boys.
I’ve brought my children up to be law-abiding and to have respect for the police (even though once my son was stopped and practically accused of stealing a skateboard he’d found and was bringing home so we could report it missing to the police!). Yet this mutual respect is jeopardised by the actions of the police themselves. If my son sees himself as a police suspect, although innocent, what kind of message does that give him? Or, indeed, those corralled by the police in a ‘kettle’ at the recent G20 summit?
Teenagers – or anyone – behaving suspiciously or doing something dangerous should be stopped and asked what they’re doing. That’s common sense and reasonable policing. In the ‘good old days’ a local beat copper would know the potential troublemakers – and, in the case of our son, would simply have a chat and ascertain that he was on school holiday. No need for forms. Interestingly, our son isn’t affronted at all by the incident: for him, growing up in what’s more or less a police state is normal. I just wish the Met would realise what damage they’re doing when what they should be doing is getting the good teenagers on side.
Image by Risager courtesy of Flickr