For the past few weeks I have been consulting the public of South Yorkshire about the possibility of increasing the council tax precept that pays for policing. If we are to stave off even bigger cuts to police services, we need to raise a little more money locally – about 6p per week for a Band A property.
So we have been doing a number of things to gauge what you, the public, think. We have done some on-line opinion sampling. In addition, members of my staff have been to various public events and places – such as Sheffield and Rotherham markets – to speak directly to people. I have been to community groups and town and parish councils.
I quite thought there might be some real resistance this year. After all, these are financially difficult times for many people. In fact, the overwhelming view – 90% – is that people across South Yorkshire are prepared to pay a little extra for policing the county in the coming year.
Many people said they regarded the police as a vital service because they want to feel safe as they go about their lives. They want to feel safe at home, at work and in town, by day and by night. And this feeling of safety is what a well-run police service gives people. There were, however, two interesting provisos. The first was that neighbourhood policing is restored as soon as possible. Many people realised that the way the service had been re-organised last year to save money had led to a reduction in dedicated officers and Police Community Support Officers in their neighbourhoods. People want as much visible policing as possible.
This is what I have asked the Chief Constable to make this his top priority. It will not be easy because savings will still have to be made. But the police recognise that the only way they can keep on top of crime and anti-social behaviour is by building local intelligence through close involvement with neighbourhoods.
The second thing that people wanted reassurance around was what happened after we leave the European Union. There is an anxiety that we might lose the ability to bring back criminals that flee to Europe. At the moment we can do this through the European Arrest Warrant.
There is also the potential loss of intelligence about criminal gangs or suspect vehicles that operate across borders if our relationship with Europol or the Schengen Information System is disturbed.
These are very real concerns and Police and Crime Commissioners must ensure that the government does not lose sight of them as it begins the complex work of exiting.