AN idea dreamt up by a bobby on the beat to engage with children has inspired thousands youngsters and has been taken up by forces across the country.

The Mini Police programme was set up by PC Craig Smith in 2011 to form positive bonds between children and Durham Police. It has proven such a success that by the end of this academic year there will be in excess of 1,600 mini police officers in more than 80 schools across County Durham and Darlington.

Other forces, including Northumbria, Merseyside and Thames Valley, have also been inspired to set up their own Mini Police projects.

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It was all excitement at Crook Primary School yesterday when a Durham Police helicopter and squad car dropped in to give pupils a flavour of what daily life is like for a beat officer.

The 16 Year 5 pupils donned their own police uniforms and watched a DVD showing the helicopter in action before joining the rest of the school in the main show-and-tell.

PC Smith, who is now the force’s Mini Police project co-ordinator, said: “The main programme is about building up trust and a positive first initial contact between police and children.

“By engaging with the children you can reach out and bring in the whole community in a non-threatening way and I think that’s why it’s been so successful.”

The pint-sized recruits will also be the force’s ambassadors for water safety this summer and will learn about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Royal Life Saving Society UK.

“The Mini Police are going to be our ambassadors to get out the message so we can reduce water deaths,” said PC Smith.

“From a policing point of view that reduces the demand on us.”

Other activities the Mini Police enjoy include visits to the control room and the force’s riot training facility. They will also help to address issues in their own area such as litter and inconsiderate parking.

Deputy Lord Lieutenant for County Durham, Anita Atkinson, attended the special event in Crook and praised PC Smith for his work.

She said: “It’s an amazing initiative and I do think it’s very useful to have young people engaged so they don’t look on the police as people to be fearful of but for what they do in helping the community.”