A team of young people are laying down the law in North Wales.
The 30 members of the Youth Commission – the first of its kind in Wales – are helping to draw up a new plan for the way the region is policed.
The scheme was set up by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones and is being overseen by his deputy, Ann Griffith, whose portfolio includes children and young people.
All of the members are aged between 14 and 25 and the four main topics identified by them as major concerns are the relationship between young people and the police, drug issues, anti-social behaviour and mental health issues.
The North Wales Youth Commission meets once a month under the guidance of Leaders Unlocked, a specialist social enterprise organisation that works with young people across the UK and which has been running eight similar schemes across England since 2013.
Also involved is Sian Rogers from Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the youth organisation, who is there to ensure equal access to the Welsh language.
At a meeting held in Colwyn Bay, project manager Alison Roberts said: “The young people who sit on the commission all applied for the role and were selected from as wide a range of communities as possible from right across North Wales.
“The group is so diverse. We have A* students who are really academic, some who are or have been through the care system, young people form ethnic minorities and others who have experience of the criminal justice system.
“We have pulled together a group of young people who in normal circumstances probably wouldn’t have mixed socially. However, they all have a common goal, to improve the lives of young people in North Wales.”
She added: “It isn’t just about sitting around a table at our monthly meetings. Members of the North Wales Youth Commission are speaking to other young people in schools, colleges, youth clubs and even those in the youth justice service to get their views and come up with ideas and solutions to feedback to the PCC.
“The hope is by mid-February we will have spoken to 1,200 young people across North Wales. The plan then is to put the information gathered before a conference which will be run by the young people themselves
“What eventually comes from that conference will be recommendations that will be put to the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones and his deputy Ann Griffith and will then form part of the next North Wales Police and Crime Plan.
“After some very detailed debates the four issues identified by the young people involved include relationship between young people and the police, drug issues, anti-social behaviour and mental health issues.
“As a group these young people are coming up with all sorts of ideas but it’s those four main topics that keep coming up.”
Youth Commission members Charlie Parry, 17, Ella McDowell, 15, Tatiana De Olivera, 14, and Claudia Maria Sacres, 13, and all from Wrexham, say being part of the Youth Commission is giving them a voice.
Charlie, a police cadet who has hopes of eventually becoming a police officer, said: “Ella and I are both police cadets and see things from both sides. We have been out in police cadet uniform and been abused by young people who see the police as their enemy.
“And as a result of the abuse police officers sometimes get from some young people you can see how it affects decision making and how they respond. We really do need to address the relationship between young people and the police.
Ella agreed adding: “It’s a real problem and if it isn’t addressed it will just get worse. It’s quite sad to see how some young people react to the police and how they mistrust almost everything about the police and authority.”
Tatiana, who has ambitions to become a nurse and Claudia, who plans to study medicine and become a doctor, say being members of the Youth Commission is a new experience.
Tatiana said: “It’s really interesting to see how young people are perceived. I think it’s important that we have chosen the relationship between young people and the police as a major topic.
“Racism is something else that I’d like to see addressed. I have been racially abused in the street once or twice, but I don’t see it as a huge problem. It’s more the little things like in school.
“We were covering the slave trade in history and the language used in those days such as the use of the N word means others turn and look at you. I really wish we could just forget skin colour, and all be the same.”
Claudia added: “I want everyone in society to listen to young people because we all have a voice and we all have something to say. It’s a shame because I feel all too often we just aren’t listened to.”
Emily Jones, of Denbigh, Seren Hughes of Corwen, Ruthin’s Hanna Roberts and Erin Gwyn, all 17, say the Youth Commission is a great way for young people to get their views across.
Emily, who has ambitions to become a youth worker, said: “It’s great being able to discuss ideas with other young people from different backgrounds and to try and find solutions.
“It’s certainly important that young people are listened to and that we are given a voice. What we are doing can make a difference not just to young people but the whole of society.”
Seren, who wants to train a social worker, added: “There simply isn’t enough youth provision across North Wales. If we are going to address anti-social behaviour, we have to give disadvantaged young people a purpose.
“Ignoring young people isn’t the answer. We need to be listened to. I’m hoping we can make a difference to what the police concentrate their efforts on as that would benefit everyone not just young people.”
Hanna, who has plans to study criminal investigation at university, added: “We need to see more police on the street but importantly, police officers willing to build a relationship with young people.
“We rarely or never see police officers coming into our schools and that’s a shame. It’s a two way thing and we need young people to build relationships with the police.”
Erin, who wants to study criminology and hasn’t ruled out a career in the police service, added: “There is a real perception that some police officers believe certain young people will behave in a certain way.
“That needs to change as young people need to understand why the police are doing the job they are and the difficulties the face.”
Kieran Hughes and Mair Williams both of Anglesey, Sarah Goodsir, of Holyhead and Joshua Taylor of Caernarfon, all 17, say their Youth Commission role is giving them a chance to have voice, something they didn’t have before.
Kieran, who has plans on becoming a police officer, said: “As young people we need to build a relationship with the police and deal with what I see as a lack of respect. However, I accept my view may be biased.
“We see problems stemming from drugs and anti-social behaviour right across North Wales; it’s a big problem and something that can’t be cured overnight.”
Mair, who wants to become a journalist, said: “One issue for me is that many young people just aren’t afraid of getting in trouble or get caught these days. I’m interested to learn how the police use the powers they have to tackle crime.
“I have always had an interest in mental health issues and I’m keen to learn how the police deal with people who may have issues with their mental well-being.”
Joshua, who like Sarah is a police cadet with both having future plans to become police officers, said: “There is such a massive problem with drugs right across North Wales. We see young people turning up for school on occasions when they are clearly high on some substance or another. Yet nothing or little is done.
“I’ve heard of incidents where students have turned up for school and been found to be in possession of drugs. Parents have been called in but there has been no police involvement. That can’t be right.”
Sarah added: “We do occasionally see police officers coming into school, but I’d like to see that happening more. However, I’d also like to see more police officers out on the streets too.
“Too many young people see police officers as hate figures and not someone who is there to help them. It’s a shame but the only way to alter that is to build relationships.”
She added: “Drug issues are a big problem as is anti-social behaviour but often there is a link between different issues. One thing for certain is we need to see more funding and more community action. We need to inspire young people and perhaps the Youth Commission can do that.”
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Griffith, who has a lead responsibility for young people as part of her role said: “I am really proud of the work these amazing young people are doing.
“This is a wonderful and innovative project and it’s fascinating to hear the views of so many young people. They really do have a voice and we need to listen. I have no doubt the voice of young people will feature strongly in our next Police and Crime Plan.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones dropped in to listen to the young people taking part in the Youth Commission meeting.
He said: “I was fascinated to hear some of the views from these young people who come from right across North Wales.
“It’s clear they are putting a great deal of thought into the issues that affect young people and in particular in their day to day relationships with the police.
“We will listen very carefully to their views and what they believe is the way forward as we develop our new Police and Crime plan.”