By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) of the TT Police Service (TTPS) interacts with several primary and secondary schools through its community outreach programme Hearts and Minds.
They visit, provide lectures and counselling to pupils with discipline problems and when called upon get parents to visit schools to deal with matters affecting their child’s performance.
The police must also be sensitive to the social environment in which the children live. The Catholic News spoke to senior officers of the TTPS about their assistance to schools which include RC schools.
In separate interviews, Inspector Ian Charles and Cpl Kevin Romany discussed how the programme seeks to help reduce indiscipline and other negative conduct and what they have observed from their interactions with children.
Cpl Romany, who was involved in Hearts and Minds 2011–2016 and recently returned said many of the teachers at schools in hot spot areas are very dedicated; they are present, passionate and “make the extra effort to ensure the children get the level of education they need. They try with limited resources to address those challenges whether it is literacy or social challenges from home”.
The IATF is called when children display violent and “gang-like behaviour” i.e. frequent fighting, aggressiveness towards other children, forming groups and picking on other children.
“In some instances, in schools, if it is not monitored you will have groups getting together within the school system. We try and assist the school to curtail that,” Cpl Romany said.
The police look for “pointers” that give insight into the child’s behaviour and respond as needed. “Sometimes it may be based on how the parent or guardian is speaking to them. Sometimes it’s neglect, they don’t have the time for them so we look to see how to identify those areas and try to see some way we can bridge the gap,” Cpl Romany said.
Inspector Charles commented, “You assess the child and you show them love; let them know we are not your enemy we are your friends.” He said no child is turned away, even those who seem “hard nuts to crack”.
He continued, “You treat them with love, and you don’t say ‘I ain’t dealing with he because he ain’t talking to police and that kind of thing’. [We] treat all children the same…” He said most children open up with counselling, those who show reluctance may be deterred by what others think.
Insp Charles disclosed that a visit to the Youth Training Centre was sometimes arranged for the children “to see what it is all about” with the result being a change; there are children though who “are adamant they don’t want other people say they are getting soft”.
He said the police realised a lot of problems with indiscipline go back to issues in the home including “sexual advances” made toward the child, and abandonment by parents. Children who are disenchanted when they go to school without the schoolbooks etc. start being disruptive.
“Single parents absent during the course of the day, gone to work, children are left unsupervised and this can lead from one thing to another…parents/guardians may be living in a home know the child is sexually active and say nothing,” Insp Charles said. He added that in cases of abuse the children are taken to the relevant authorities.
Cpl Romany observed the children who are not easily enticed from the education path are the ones closely monitored by parents and guardians; they have a strict routine—school, extra-curricular activity and back home. The police assist when schools are having difficulty contacting parents whether because the telephone number does not work, or parents have ‘no time’ to meet. Insp Charles said, “When you ask why the children did not go to school, the response is ‘we have no money to send them’.” Cpl Romany said, “Some of them are working two jobs; some of them are working and studying. Some of them because the child constantly giving trouble and they constantly have to come into the school …they just get fed up and they just say, ‘just send them home’.”
Cpl Romany said the police cannot be effective without at times interacting with “negative elements” in the community. He explained, “The negative elements are there 24–7; the people live there 24–7. If they see you talking to the police too much, they label you an informer, your life could be at risk.”
He clarified “From time to time when we passing through, we will talk with these fellas, so they know what we are about. If we are having a workshop in the community, we will tell them. They may not attend but they may send one of their relatives because they want to know what really going on.”