A COUPLE of mouthy youngsters hang around outside Ashburton's Tourist Information Centre and sound off when a policeman approaches to conduct a stop and search. There is another suspicious character trying out car door handles in the adjacent car park. Elsewhere in the town other typical crime scenarios are being played out. Is Ashburton experiencing a crime wave? Lo, all is not as it seems. TV cameras roll, a knot of press photographers contort themselves to get the best shots and more policemen look on, noting every word and deed down on clip-boards. Ashburton was chosen as a crime laboratory on Wednesday so that 20 student police officers could test their knowledge of law and procedures and get structured feedback on their performance. 'I think it's a brilliant idea,' said Claire Showell, who was in town on the shopping trip with a couple of friends. Students from Exeter College public services course, playing the parts of potential law-breakers, were just as enthusiastic. 'I think it's brilliant. It is actually happening so that the public can watch it as well. They can see how the police are dealing with different situations,' said Laura Maker, 18. She played the part of a rowdy youth 'arrested' by a student policeman for carrying a knuckleduster. While he conducted a stop and search he was harried by another bolshie character and an angry shopkeeper 'It is a bit nerve-wracking. It is quite hard trying to control a situation with three people,' he admitted. Even though it was only an exercise, he said he was pleased to get an arrest. 'You dread not finding anything,' he said. This is the first such community practical day held by Devon and Cornwall Police. New recruits previously were sent to a regional training centre in South Wales. As part of police reforms each force now has to train its own officers, with greater community involvement. Sgt Mick Glynn designed the 22-week training course. He said he was delighted at the way the day had gone. 'They were a bit nervous as it is their first time in public in their uniforms, but they've settled into it well. We've had a good response from the public.'