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Police set up shop in the classroom

THE NETHERLANDS. Officers target school in attempt to improve community relations. Mark Fuller reports. A police station has opened in a Rotterdam school in a project aiming to foster good community relations.

A classroom in the De Notenkraker junior school has been converted into a police station as part of a broader project to bring the police closer to the local community of Hoogvliet, a rundown area with high unemployment, high levels of petty crime and a large immigrant population.

"The police are not there to stop the children misbehaving, although their presence obviously has an effect on pupils," said local council leader Hans Elemans.

Staffed by two officers and five civilian surveillance staff, the station has seen the number of people coming to report problems surge since it opened last month.

Jan Lauf, one of the officers on duty, said: "Many parents pop in after taking their kids to school to discuss problems. De Notenkraker was chosen because of its central location in the area. We have a good view of what's going on in and around the playground as well as in a nearby shopping centre.

"The children are not frightened by the station, but are excited by it. They come to see us often and bring us drawings."

The avuncular Mr Lauf is one of several officers who were selected on the basis of having an affinity with children.

Hoogvliet is seen as one the most innovative councils in coping with social problems. Besides the school, police stations have been set up in a house and a coffee-shop that used to sell soft-drugs.

Since September, the school has been providing study and leisure activities for children and adults after normal classes cease at 3pm. Adults in the area can follow education and computer courses or attend aerobic lessons until 10pm. There are other courses, computer games and sport activities for children.

"We felt it was wrong to only use the school and its facilities for such a short time each day," said De Notenkraker's director, Anton de Jong.

Mr De Jong said his school did not have any serious problems but that there was a lot of vandalism and minor disturbances in the area, which the presence of the police station would combat.

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