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Reaching out to our young communities

In her latest blog PCC Alison Hernandez discusses connecting with young communities and the recent OPCC Takeover Challenge Day

Reaching out to our young communities

If we want to build safe, resilient and connected communities we need to connect with all of our communities and make sure we hear their voices.

My team have been working hard with partners across Devon and Cornwall to try and reach out to our younger communities – to hear their views on policing, the criminal justice system and their ideas on how we can make things better!

Last month, my office opened its doors to approximately 50 students from various sixth forms and colleges across Devon and Cornwall to take part in our Takeover Challenge Day.

Takeover Challenge is a well-established scheme launched in 2007 by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office as a way of encouraging organisations to invite young people into their offices to learn about key decision making roles. Inviting young people into our organisation and placing them in key decision making scenarios provides them with a valuable insight into the working world and also allows us, as organisations, to benefit from fresh young perspectives.

In the last two years nearly 100,000 young people across England have taken part in the scheme and spent time in a range of organisations. From public organisations like councils, the NHS and the police to big companies like Sky News and even premiership football clubs, Takeover Challenge Days are clearly mutually beneficial.

For my office, Takeover Challenge Day has taken on a different format each year – whether it is hosting the event jointly with Devon and Cornwall Police or attending a Takeover Challenge day in Exeter alongside the Victim Care Unit. This year was no different. For the first time we decided to host our own Takeover Challenge Day and call upon assistance from our police and Victim Care Unit colleagues.

Over the course of the morning, the students took part in various interactive workshops tackling subjects such as hate crime and stop search. They also heard from call handlers in the Contact Management and Communications Unit (CMCU) and colleagues from the Victim Care Unit to give them some insight into the wider work of the police.

We asked the students to take part in some scenario based role plays and they were brilliant. For example, students were put in the shoes of a call handler and having to make quick fire decisions about what questions to ask and which units to dispatch – this was certainly an eye opener for the students. While, of course, no units were actually dispatched in this instance it gave the students an idea of how quickly call handlers have to act and often have to ask very invasive questions - questions that can save a person’s life.

After the lunch break students took part in a workshop to help my team and our colleagues in the police better understand how to engage with young people. We heard their views about policing and how young people want to be policed - whether that’s online, in their communities or via other means such as social media. It was interesting to hear how the young people wanted to contact the police in a non-emergency.

It is hardly surprising with an increasingly digital world, most said they would prefer to report crimes online. It’s reassuring to know that expanding the range of methods in which the public can now report crimes, including the creation of a web chat, is a good use of resources and will be used by the next generation.

As many of the students who attended our Takeover Day currently study public services or wish to pursue a career in the policing family, newly recruited Police Constable Garry Bacon came to speak about his experience with Devon and Cornwall Police. It was great to see that these students are so enthusiastic and they had some fantastic questions about the recruitment process.

The day was rounded off with a visit from dog handler Police Constable Vicky Ritchie and Police Dog Riggs. PC Ritchie spoke to the students about the different kinds of police dogs including the pioneering digital dogs we have here in Devon and Cornwall. PD Riggs was very well behaved while PC Ritchie talked about all aspects of what it takes to be a dog handler, including some of the less glamorous realities of long, cold nights, getting stood down at the last minute and reminding the students that police dogs are not pets.

Our Takeover Challenge Day was a great success, I enjoyed meeting all the young people from across the region and I’m sure they are able to take away valuable lessons from the event. Whether that’s how they can access support if they, or someone they know, has been the victim of a crime, or what are the first steps to take if they want to get involved with the policing family.

Connectivity with communities is a key priority in my Police and Crime Plan and I am determined to do all I can to ensure we hear the voice of our young people. Takeover Challenge Day is an excellent opportunity for me and my office to hear and listen to their views and I want to thank everyone for taking part and look forward to an even bigger and better event next year.

If you would like to get more involved in the work of the OPCC please contact us at

Alison Hernandez