By day, James Watt College's waterfront campus in Greenock is, as you might expect, awash with students. But on Friday and Saturday nights, for a year, the ground floor was converted into a makeshift police station where intoxicated and unruly youngsters, picked up on the streets of Inverclyde, were processed by the police, then encouraged to change their ways.
This was "real-time policing", says Chief Inspector Graeme MacDiarmid, area commander for Inverclyde, and it won an award last month from Scotland's Colleges for "public value".
Introduced by the Inverclyde Initiative, a partnership agreement between James Watt College, the local council, Strathclyde Police and the NHS, the scheme helped cut crime among the target age group - 14 to 18-year-olds - by around 10 per cent, and complaints of youth disorder in targeted areas fell for six to eight weeks after teenagers had visited the Safety Zone.
Normally, if the police suspect a teenager of drinking or making a mild nuisance of themselves, their names will be taken, they will receive a warning and an "alert" letter will be sent to parents. If they are very drunk or the police believe they might be in danger, they will be taken home. Alert letters, however, arrive a week after the incident and some parents pay scant attention when their child is brought home by the police.
With the Safety Zone, youngsters who were causing the police concern were immediately taken there, parents were called to collect them, and they received counselling. This could be related to alcohol abuse or drug use. Some heard the testimony of John Muir, who has campaigned against knife crime since his son Damian was murdered by 21-year-old Barry Gavin in 2007.
"If serious criminality had taken place - if they had been involved in a street fight - they would be taken straight to the police office," says Chief Inspector MacDiarmid. "But if the allegation was fairly low-level, like drinking or being a bit rowdy, we took them to the college."
After being issued with a warning and speaking to counsellors, the youngsters and their parents were encouraged to move into an assembly hall area filled with stalls showing the alternatives on offer in their community.
"There was information delivered by nurses about the consequences of under-age sex, alcohol abuse and bad diet," says the chief inspector.
"Then we tried to get them more active and involved in sport, so everything from the golf to boxing and athletics clubs was showcased. There were also rock bands and pipe bands there; they brought along instruments to get them interested."
Inverclyde Leisure was represented, as well as the Air Cadets and Army Cadets. Outside in the car park, portable five-a-side pitches were erected. And the council's Invernet Bus, which visits communities to give residents free internet access, demonstrated all it had to offer.
The scheme ran two or three times a month on a Friday and Saturday night between 6pm and midnight, with around 80 youngsters passing through the door each evening.
Alistair Shaw, assistant principal of James Watt College, says the college and its partners are "hugely proud" of the impact the programme had on the local community.
Budget cuts have resulted in the police force in Inverclyde restructuring and the Safety Zone has not run since March. However, Chief Inspector MacDiarmid expects the initiative to be reintroduced early next year.
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