Members of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner’s Youth Commission were invited to speak to young homeless people in Chichester last Tuesday (May 26).
Around 20 young adults took part in an interactive workshop looking at ways to improve their relationships with the police at the Chichester Foyer, a supported living service provider for 16-25-year-olds at risk of homelessness.
The session explored myths and perceptions on stop and search rights, participants’ experiences with the police, and their opinions on a new ‘code of conduct’ to guide Sussex Police in their relations with young people.
David Wynne, support coordinator at Chichester Foyer, said: “I had been reading about the work that the PCC’s Youth Commission have been doing around young people’s relationships with the police.
“Our service users wanted to discuss this with them and in particular stop and search as they feel that they are often victimised when stopped by police officers.
“They were also really keen to talk to the Youth Commission about the ‘code of conduct’ they are developing and how they could have an input.”
The ‘Big Conversation’ workshop was supported by Youth Commission member Olivia Johnstone, 23, from Lewes.
Ms Johnstone said: “The Chichester Foyer was a brilliant event. We were able to get important views from members of the community who often felt that because of their situation, being young and homeless; they were often stereotyped and targeted unfairly.
“Many of them explained several negative experiences that happened to themselves and to others that they had witnessed.
“However, many showed a mature and understanding attitude to the role of the police.
“When asked if they thought that stop and search was there to embarrass and belittle individuals and should subsequently be scrapped, they concluded that although many of them felt targeted and embarrassed by it, they understood that it is a fundamental power that serves a greater purpose of protecting the public.
“However, worryingly there was a lack of knowledge as to their rights when stopped and searched, this was something we addressed directly and helped to correct their misconceptions.”
Mr Wynne added: “The event was well supported and the young people took a lot away from it, carrying the discussion on long after SYC had left.
“In particular the focus shifted to positive stories they had of times when police intervention had been helpful, as their thinking moved away from stop and search – which this group of clients feels they are overly selected for.
“We are all keen to attend the SYC event at the Amex Stadium in September to have our voice added in the creation of a new code of conduct for Sussex Police.
“One young person told me: ‘I thought it was good to have the opportunity to voice your opinion of the police without the risk of being arrested’.”
The Youth Commission was established last year as a nine-month pilot project by the PCC in partnership with the SHM Foundation, an independent charitable trust.
Last year the group gathered and recorded the views of more than 2,000 young people across Sussex on priority issues and presented its findings and recommendations to the PCC, senior officers from Sussex Police, local councillors, community groups and Sussex MPs at a conference at the Amex Stadium in Brighton last September.
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