One of my very first blogs was about the fine line between Detached youthwork and informal policing, in it I posed the question about how detached work could become so closely linked to a cheap form of policing that young people wouldnt know the difference. The full article is HERE.
However, the question I thought it would be worth asking is – Should agencies such as the church, as youthworkers, as community work – work with the Police?
From a detached youthwork perspective being on the streets has always meant that we would be in contact with the police, as they too walk around a town or community (though Ive seen considerably alot less on the streets since leaving Perth), and so there is a regard that we have for informing the Police of our work, our intentions and how we would be working, when and where.
But what if detached youthwork was funded by the police? Or what if Youthworkers were accompanying the Police when they went out on the streets, and this does happen? I realise every situation is a different one with different agendas, practices and objectives, but if youthworkers work in conjunction with the police what are the grey areas, or compromises that youthworkers might have to make?
If the reason for being there is so that walls between the Police and young people are broken down, is this the type of border pedagogical work that is appropriate for the youthworker? should youthwork be the welcome committe for a police force? isnt that their job?
I guess the aspect of this that is most surprising is the educational philosophy of youth work, in that if community liberation and flourishing is its aim then heading into a community group of young people with an agenda of reducing anti social behaviour and building positive relationships with a state controlling agency such as the police might place all the work of reparation in the young persons quarters.
I have no doubt that the police will find this kind of work beneficial for a number of targetted reasons, it may reduce crime, it may help them in community partnership, it may increase their profile. But long term is it beneficial for the young people or the community? How has it educated and enabled them to broader flourishing and informal education that takes into account the politics of that education.
There are benefits to partnerships between the police and youthwork, schols programmes or issue programmes linked to alcohol or driving, or on community partnership plans.
If community based youthwork should have hesitancy about working so directly with the Police, what about the church?
If the ‘kind’ of people that community initiatives are for, for people whom in areas where there might be a suspicion of authority, such as the church, school and police – what might the issues be if the church and police are in partnership to work in an area like this?
Does close church/police partnership open up genuine opportunities for working with people in communities – or it the case that these opportunities exist anyway and the police are grateful that the church is filling the gaps so it in itself has an extra pair of eyes on the streets or in the spaces. Again something the church could be wary of, it was always an odd one on detached- am i an informant if i see something? am i as youthworker or christian (or or and), an extra pair of trusted eyes for the police and what implication might this have?
Again, i have no doubt the Police couldnt recommend the Community work done by Christians in partnership with them enough. But is it an appropriate way for the church to do mission in communities with families, young people and isolated, vulnerable groups? Should the type of community work the church does raise the bar just a little higher than just ‘reducing anti social behaviour’ and being favoured by the police as one of its key selling points?
Hmm, anti social behaviour, dont get me started, but thats just a perception, and often its the vulnerable groups, young people who are targetted. By heralding this as a benefit is the church only buying into the rhetoric of crime, of surveillance culture and stop gap/sticky plaster work just to reduce crime stats? Harsh, and i know this isnt all of it. But where it is no wonder the police love it, someone else reduced the stats and they get the praise. Their partnership with the church helped to reduced crime stats, regardless of the work that the voluntary sector put in to it.
For the same reason youthworkers should be wary of forging such public partnerships with the Police, maybe the church might do so as well. Benefits apart such as national credibility or publicity. Those further from the respectability of society will be less trustworthy of churches when the police are involved in the partnerships, and usually the police are quick to advertise these initiatives. Again, there are partnerships with the police that might be beneficial to the church, and local officers do form good relationships with clergy in regard to crime issues or challenging funeral situations or local issues. Its when the church is either commissioned by the police, paid by the police or doing the work of the police in a community where alarm bells might ring. Is the view of people who live in communities changed because the police might regard them differently? As a problem to solve, a crime stat to reduce? rather than a person made in the image of God, a person with Gifts, needs and maybe in need of listening to and learning from? what might be at stake? spiritual, community or theological integrity of actions?
The church may have a credibility issue, actually i think it did along time ago, if it still thinks it has, it needs to change its tune. Now it is acting to fill gaps that the welfare state has removed itself from, and is needed all over the country, from schools, to foodbanks, to credit unions, and youthwork, it is needed. It has the kind of credibility as it is acting in these spaces to not need credibility from state agencies such as the police, however much it is highly regarded by them.
If the church is to work in partnerships, and is now in more of a position of strength in the country because of its good work and being needed and respected- should it be more selective about what kind of partnerships it forges and publicises as it develops them from a position of strength more than a position of desperation of a few years ago. If the police come calling- should the church accept the invitation?