Police in Surrey have warned families that it is a crime for their children to skateboard and play football on the road. Police in Thams Ditton posted notices through doors in a residential street in Thames Ditton, Surrey, which left children as young as six scared that they would be arrested for playing outside.
Detectives said in the letter that they were ‘reminding parents and youths of their legal and social responsibilities’, adding that ‘playing football or other sports in the street is a criminal offence’
So what are we to make of this?
Firstly, it’s a good example illustrating the public obsession with safety culture – safety becoming the rationale for justifying an increasingly wide array of actions, and here the police are merely responding to a widespread public demand that children be kept safe, and over-regulating children in the process (a time-honoured tactic in liquid modern Britain).
This is also an example of the police policing the contemporary ‘public-private divide’ and reinforcing our normative structures. What were these children and parents thinking after all? That public streets exist for mutual frivolity? NO! Public spaces are places where people, on all occasions, must act as isolated individuals – and streets especially are places in which people should drive around in cars, closed off from the world, public spaces are not for community
These unconscious thought structures must have been at the root of the residents who would have complained about those kids. The police wouldn’t send such leaflets out on their own initiative, without some sort of prompt which they had to respond to, and this is almost certainly an example of the police covering their own backs, responding to a civil complaint.
Finally, it is possible that the root of all this lies in legitimate complaints. I wonder how much respect these middle class children actually have for ‘their community’? Given that this is an area where the average house prices top £500K, I doubt if they’ve imbibed much of a community spirit, and I imagine that there’s every possibility that when a bunch of these kids get together in a street for what’s very possibly their first experience of freedom in any meaningful sense of the word, that the result would be loud self-centred and obnoxious affair.
As an afterthought.. this also goes to show the damage that poorly worded documentation can do. If the person who wrote this had chosen their words more carefully the leaflet wouldn’t had been anywhere near as offensive.
NB, it’s worth noting that Inspector David Hollingworth has apologised for the leaflets, and pointed out that officers wanted to raise awareness of the dangers. He said of the leaflet: “It correctly identified that playing games such as football on the highway may be unlawful in some circumstances. However, this would not in any way be criminal behaviour.”