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'I am trying to change behaviour'

PC Howard Johnson has worked at Beechwood comprehensive, Slough, for three years, and admits diffusing tense situations isn't always easy, writes Madeleine Brettingham

"I've never found it difficult to fit in with staff, but it was a bit scary at first as it was something quite new. A lot of the students were out of control and the parents could be confrontational.

"I've stopped wearing my utility belt because they saw it as a threat. I think I've managed to put across the message that I'm 'softly, softly' and trying to change behaviour rather than lock people up.

"The problem with confrontations is knowing the right level of force. The last thing you want to be doing is fighting with a student. I have been punched by a 15-year-old boy. He swore at me and I followed him outside, where he attacked me. I had to subdue him. He was brought into the police station and got a final warning.

"There's a few times I've been pushed to the limit. Once, a teacher called for me when they wanted someone off site. It was a chap my height, with all his mates. He threatened to smack me, so I said I would arrest him for assault. In the end, he went.

"Initially we had a lot more arrests. There have been around 30 in my time, but that's not what we want. A big part of my job is restorative justice.

Rarely a day goes by when I don't have one conference, and sometimes 10.

Pupils sit down and work out their differences.

"Recently there was a classroom fight between a Sikh and a Muslim, with racial abuse. A boy was wounded in the back of the head. It was touch and go whether it went to the police. But we sat down and worked it out.

"Once I caught pupils stealing a bike, but instead of taking them to the station,I called their parents in. The other day, we had a racial incident where Polish pupils were threatened. It ended with 25 people shaking hands and hugging.

"I run a table tennis club and I think I've broken down a lot of barriers between kids and the police. I give them more than a fair chance."

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