PCC Blog 102

It was quite moving to go to Robert Dyson House, the police training centre near Wath, to be part of a swearing in ceremony for the latest group of new recruits. This was the first time the police had been able to hold an in-person ceremony with parents present since the coronavirus interrupted everything.

Proud parents watched as forty young women and men, neatly turned out in their new uniforms, marched in and took their seats. They faced one another, twenty on one side and twenty on the other, like an Oxbridge chapel. This was their second day.

Inspector Amanda Dickens-Scott welcomed recruits and parents. We watched a brief video showing some of the many and varied roles that South Yorkshire Police undertake. The Chief Constable reminded them that policing is based on values. I said that while the public might have their criticisms, everyone wanted to see more police in South Yorkshire, and they were the ‘more police’.

Other guests included Paul Berry, a former police officer who oversees the relationship with Sheffield Hallam University – because all these recruits are doing a degree course as well as beginning their on-the-job training. And a magistrate and chair of the Sheffield bench, without whom there could be no ceremony. Police officers have to swear an oath in the presence of a magistrate and then receive their warrant cards.

The heart of the ceremony was the declaration – which is called an attestation. Each new officer called out their name and then collectively they said this:

“I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.”

There are many things of interest about this declaration. There is a strong emphasis on values, such as fairness, integrity, diligence, impartiality and respect. I am not sure that all members of the public would be aware of the commitment to uphold human rights or to prevent crimes and not just enforce the law. And the attestation also makes clear that the police have operational independence. They serve the Queen and not politicians. That includes police and crime commissioners. And government ministers.

I spoke to some of the new officers and their parents at a buffet afterwards. They will need the support of their families because they now carry awesome responsibilities and have to manage academic study as well as learn the skills of being a police officer.

As we talked I was struck by the number of times the parents and the officers themselves said that they had always wanted to join the police – as far back as they could remember. This is challenging for future recruitment campaigns. I am not sure what a campaign for the newly born looks like. However, it’s an indication that being a police officer is a vocation and not just a job.

(If you know someone who would like to be a police officer, recruiting is currently taking place. See the South Yorkshire police website.)

The Governor, the Inspector and crime

What brings together the Governor of the Bank of England, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and crime? The answer is inflation.

The most important task of the Governor of the Bank of England is to keep inflation at or below 2%. But last week the Governor, Andrew Bailey, said that by the end of this year inflation will be in double figures – five times greater than his target. (I guess his pay is not performance related.) Moreover, he said, this was something he could do nothing about since this inflation was ‘imported’. It was because of increases in world energy prices and the war in Ukraine, over which he had no control. He found this ‘apocalyptic’. I found it strange.

Yes, much inflation is imported, but surely not all? During the pandemic the government shut down parts of the economy – shops, pubs, restaurants – and kept us locked down in order to stop the spread of Covid and protect the NHS. But the Governor began to pump money into the economy – Quantitative Easing. I only did economics for a short time, but one of the first things you learn is that more money chasing fewer goods and services leads to inflation. So some of the inflation we face is of our own making and the remedy lies in the hands of the Governor.

Meanwhile, the new Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, declared that inflation and the cost of living crisis would lead to increased crime. He was not saying that poverty automatically makes criminals of the poor, but he was pointing out that if people are struggling to eat, heat their homes and pay their way, some will be tempted and start to make bad choices – shoplifting, theft and the like. In these circumstances, the Chief Inspector suggested, police should use their discretion ‘more often’ – that is, not prosecute in every case but use judgement.

I have no doubt that those of us who have decent salaries and pensions have some sympathy with what the Chief Inspector says. I am less sure that those who struggle to pay bills and do not go down a criminal route will be as sympathetic. I also think it is going to be difficult to make judgments about motivation. It is one thing for someone to say they have stolen in order to feed the children and if it is bread and milk they steal. But what if they steal other items in order to sell – and they have an addiction? Are the proceeds of crime feeding the children or a habit? I don’t envy the ordinary police officer who will have to make these judgement calls if the cost of living crisis becomes more acute as the months pass by.

If the Governor of the Bank of England really is impotent in the face of rising inflation then the Chief Inspector may well be right in predicting increased ‘poverty crimes’ and the police will need to think in advance how they are to deal with them. The judgements officers will be called upon to make come with experience and understanding of the communities they police. But as we seek to repair the cuts of the past decade and increase officer numbers, what we are finding across the country are growing but young-in-service forces.

It is going to be a very difficult winter for families. And for the police.

Who’s learning lessons?

In November last year, some newly elected councillors on Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council alleged that child sexual exploitation (CSE) was occurring on the same scale as in the past and was not being investigated effectively enough by either the police or Rotherham Council. They put down a motion to this effect at a council meeting. These were very serious allegations and so the council set up an independent review to examine them, chaired by Jenny Myers, the independent chair of the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership. The Review findings were published last week.

The Review Team found that both police and council had responded to information provided them by the councillors effectively and robustly and their ‘specific allegations … were not founded.’  They also found ‘no evidence that CSE may be occurring on the same scale as the past’. The Review Team also commended police and council for the way they worked together to prevent and protect children from exploitation and noted the clear strategies in place for training staff.

In short, the allegations made by the councillors were not supported though – as with all reviews –  there were some suggestions for learning and improvement, which I am sure both police and council will accept.

I have an interest in this because my job as PCC is to hold the force to account. If the Review had upheld what the councillors said then it would have been evidence that I had not been doing my job.

Once every quarter at a meeting of the Public Accountability Board I receive two reports from the police on CSE – one specific to Rotherham and one looking at CSE across the county. I hope that one of the lessons the councillors will learn is that there is this regular scrutiny of CSE at the Public Accountability Board. I also report regularly about CSE to the Police and Crime Panel, on which some of these councillors sit, and this is another place where reassurance can be gained.

I stress this because the councillors by-passed what is in place and made their allegations in the most public way – going straight to the media and then putting down a motion in the council. This caused unnecessary public anxiety. It also upset those who work on CSE in both the police and the council who are quite passionate in giving their best to safeguard children and support victims.

I hope that the media recognise that they have lessons to learn as well. CSE is probably the most sensitive issue that we deal with and giving such prominence to allegations that turned out to be unfounded did damage. Yes, they have a duty to report. But they also have a duty to think how best to do that when what is being alleged can cause such anxiety and distress – and is wrong.

Stay safe and well.