Encouraging the police

It is now a year since I became Police and Crime Commissioner. I was elected in fairly miserable circumstances. Public pressure had forced my predecessor to resign in the wake of the child sexual exploitation scandals. The Hillsborough Inquests and other investigations were draining money from the police budget and affecting police morale.

So I have had to find a balance between holding the police to account, on the one hand, while ensuring that this does not depress morale any further on the other.

Holding to account means ensuring the force acknowledges where it has made mistakes and takes steps to put things right. There must be no denials and a genuine desire to change.

Encouraging the police is about acknowledging the good work that the force does. And there is a lot of good work, most of which goes on day by day but largely unknown and unrecognised.

For instance, every week I meet police officers and Police Community Support Officers, women and men, who have been in the force for a few or many years who all tell me the same thing. They love their job and they are never happier than when they come home feeling they have helped a member of the public at some difficult moment in their lives.

Some have told me about those moments.

There was the young woman police officer who spoke about the time when she sat with an elderly woman who had been burgled in particularly nasty circumstances, making her cups of tea and speaking gently to her until she stopped shaking and her daughter arrived.

There was the PCSO who was running five-a-side football sessions for a group of energetic teenagers from different ethnic backgrounds. On the streets, there had been a history of tensions and fights. Now, in the gym, they were playing respectfully together, and the most boisterous and challenging of them all called the PCSO, ‘Sir’!

There was the officer who described how she had to tell two people that their seventeen year old son had died in a road traffic accident.

There was the officer who took me to see a young couple who are turning a former pub into a thriving boxing club for young people in one of the more deprived parts of South Yorkshire. The officer not only knew the area and the people very well, but he also cared about them and wanted to encourage anyone prepared to make a difference to the lives of those who lived there.

These are the daily activities of those who work for the police and I always feel humbled to hear their stories.

And all this is done in the knowledge that every day when they go onto the streets to keep us safe, they may be putting their own lives in danger.

The one thing I have learnt over this past year is that you only really have the right to hold the police to account if you also recognise the good work they do.