Trust is a fragile thing
We know that only too well in South Yorkshire. When I became Police and Crime Commissioner six years ago, the force was reeling from the verdicts of the Hillsborough inquests and Professor Alexis Jay’s report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. In both, the police received heavy criticism. Opinion could be sharply divided about this, and some officers felt aggrieved. But what was not in doubt was that public trust and confidence in the force fell to a low level and had to be restored.
It had to be restored because a police force cannot operate successfully unless the public it serves has confidence in it. (If you doubt that, glance across the Atlantic to the United States. How do you do ‘normal’ policing in American towns and cities after the incidents in Minneapolis?) It has taken hard work and determination on the part of SYP to win back public trust.
But the force has done it. In fact, a recent national survey has shown that of all the forces in the country, this is the one where public trust and confidence is most improved.
I have also been looking through my own notes of meetings I went to and correspondence I received before the lock-down, and have concluded that what we have in South Yorkshire now is a bedrock of support for the police which is pretty firm.
I think this has come about for a number of reasons. Going back to the difficult times – Hillsborough and CSE – the thing the force realised was that it would not be able to move on unless it learnt lessons, and it could not learn lessons unless it admitted mistakes. It did this.
But then more recently it has demonstrated that it can be trusted in a crisis. Last year we had the floods and there was widespread recognition that the force performed exceptionally with many officers going out of their way to help people in difficulties.
And now, during this very trying time of the lock-down, most people, I believe, would accept that the force has on the whole acted in a measured way. There have been fines, though not many, and fines have only been imposed after repeated attempts at persuasion have failed.
The time of trust
What I write above about the police applies in equal measure to the government. We all want the government to succeed. We all need the government to succeed, especially in the next phase of the gradual relaxation of the restrictions.
They have to keep our trust and confidence, but that has had a battering this past week or so. This is the real tragedy of the Dominic Cummings affair. How differently that could have been handled. It could have been a moment for saying, ‘We got this wrong. Whatever the law said, these were journeys that should not have been made.’ That would have strengthened trust.
And trust is now at a premium – because many are anxious about what happens next. Parents with children who will be going back to school are anxious. Those who will be returning to work are anxious. Those with underlying health conditions are anxious. And we in the north are anxious because we do not seem to be at the same stage as London and the south: we fear a second wave if we move too quickly.
So we look for clarity around what is and is not permitted. We, the public need that, and so do the police if they are to continue to act in a measured way and, in turn, retain trust.
The police have a gold group to manage any major incident, including the present crisis. Part of their responsibility is to look ahead and plan for the next phase. A member of my staff attends to give me assurance on your behalf that this planning is happening.
I have been impressed by the way the Gold group has gone about its work, looking at every possibility and ensuring that, in so far as they can be, the police are prepared. They were quick to understand what a pandemic was and what it meant. They were quick to get PPE ordered and in place. They were quick to recognise that there would be an impact on staff wellbeing. They have thought about a second wave. And so on.
They also realise – to return to the theme of this week’s blog – that if we can’t get jury trials going again soon and at some pace, trust and confidence in the criminal justice system will start to fray as a backlog builds and potential guilty people remain in the community.
But that lies mainly in the hands of others.
We each find comfort in difficult times in different places. Each evening, as an ordained person, I say an office which speaks about ‘the changes and chances of this fleeting world.’ I have said these words daily for most of my life. They have never resonated quite as much before.
I hope you are staying safe and well.