July 17 and the timing could not have been better for a visit to Manor High School in Sandwell to J witness the testing of a new crime-busting interactive CD for teenagers. It's the day the Home Office published the latest crime survey, suggesting an overall drop in offences but indicating rises in burglaries, drug-related incidents and violence. The statistics confirm the continuing vulnerability of the young both as perpetrators and victims of street crime.
Manor High serves a community battered by break-ins, street thefts and the loss of jobs. "Drugs don't seem to be coming through the gates," says Beverley Thomas, the school's special education needs co-ordinator, "but they are prominently 'in the air' for youngsters around here." Hence, the school's eagerness to participate in the production of the Trouble - can you avoid it? CD-Rom, the latest incarnation of a successful board game devised by West Midlands Police and Coventry Education Support Advisory Service. A group of 15-year-olds has gathered to test the prototype and all are eager to check their performances in the filmed sequences.
"I could stand here and yak about crime and the need to be good," says schools partnership officer PC Kevin Watson, one of the game's creators.
"But here is a resource that, we hope, will give you a chance to think through how you might respond in situations that could involve you putting yourself at risk or getting into something illegal."
He points out the shame of having to explain the consequences facing young people once they are arrested. Since June 2000, the Crime and Disorder Act has replaced the "cautioning" system with youth offending teams (YOTs) and the automatic "three strikes and you're in court" rules.
Trouble resembles a socially conscious version of Trivial Pursuits, coupled with elements of the "truth game". "Players move around a board landing on squares promoting activities based on problematic situations at home, at school or out and about," explains Nicki Warner of West Midlands Police community safety bureau. "Each scenario comes with a variety of possible responses which the groups discuss before selecting one."
If the class has chosen to play the "truthful" version (as opposed to "the win at all costs" approach), individual choices can be challenged. If there is no plausible justification, the teacher-referee can deduct points.
Players landing on a Trouble square are warned of the consequences of their behaviour and lose points, while Good Citizen squares provide the chance to describe a point-winning positive community act.
The game can be played on screen or via interactive whiteboard with the whole class. It comes into its own with the filmed scenes that set up moral dilemmas, and voice-overs that animate text-only scenarios. Teachers can control key themes and customise scenarios to reflect local situations. New card sets on drugs issues and safety have been devised. A special needs version is being developed, and there will be filmed illustrations of events in magistrates and crown courts.
"It is often a horrible realisation at the end of a trial for young people facing a custodial sentence when they discover they are not allowed to go to their parents for comfort," says Kevin Watson. "The hope is that seeing such things will prove a significant deterrent against offending in the first place."
The reaction among students was positive. Paul Nightingale (15) said the early warning nature of the game was helpful. "Peer-group pressure is really hard to resist", but through this game you can think about how you would respond if one of these situations came up."
Sales of the CD-Rom should prove an important fundraiser for the Building Blocks charitable trust which provided the finance and will channel profits into further crime-reduction initiatives in the area. Seventy five schools, 17 police forces and more than 70 youth agencies have already bought the game. "The great thing is the school-based nature of many of the situations," says Roger Brooks, the PSHE co-ordinator at Ernsford Grange School, Coventry. "It begins with what students know - situations in which they have been a victim or perpetrator - it means their discussions are from the heart."
CD-Rom is pound;65 and includes teachers' notes and lesson plans from Building Blocks, Force Community Safety Bureau, PO Box 52, Lloyd House, Colmore Circus, Queensway, Birmingham B4 6NQTel: 0121 626 5328 Email: n.warner@west-midlands. police.uk www.west-midlands.police. uktrouble