Last week I attended the annual Cadets evening.
This brought together cadets and their parents/carers from each of the districts for the presentation of certificates of achievement and other awards by Assistant Chief Constable Dan Thorpe, Superintendent Neil Thomas from Doncaster and myself. We were meeting in a grand marquee in the grounds of the (police) Niagara Centre in Sheffield.
The cadets, male and female, are aged between 15 and 17, with some volunteer cadet leaders who are 18. They meet each Wednesday in the four districts – Barnsley, Rotherham (at the Lifewise Centre in Hellaby), Doncaster and Sheffield (at Niagara). They have a very varied programme of activities. The last time I called on a group they were learning first aid and some were preparing to be ‘secret shoppers’ – working ‘undercover’ with the police to test whether certain shops were selling alcohol to children without asking for proof of age. I often come across them as well at summer events – such as the Rotherham Show – or on parade at Sheffield cathedral before a civic service.
The Assistant Chief congratulated them on all that they had achieved. I said I had met with some South Yorkshire employers last year who told me that they were always pleased to see on someone’s CV that they had been a police cadet. It signified someone who would be conscientious and reliable, confident but not arrogant. I also said I hoped the parents were proud both of what the young people had done and also how well turned out they were in gleaming white shirts and black ties – as immaculate as their bedrooms back home. (I am not sure why the parents thought this was funny.)
Halfway through the evening we broke for coffee and cakes and the young people learned a new life skill: how to each chocolate cake without dropping crumbs down the front of your white shirt.
From Our Own Correspondent
Most Saturday mornings I listen to a programme on BBC Radio 4 called From Our Own Correspondent, introduced by Kate Adie. The programme consists of a number of short talks by BBC correspondents in different parts of the world. Normally they would be filing reports on the sort of news that makes the headlines – wars, politics, natural disasters and the like. But for this programme, while they might reflect on the big issues from a more personal point of view, they will more likely speak about some of the ordinary, everyday things they come across – the bread and butter of most people’s lives.
I often feel like one of those correspondents in my role as Police and Crime Commissioner.
Each week on Monday morning I meet with the Senior Command Team and the Chief Constable in police headquarters. We discuss many things, but I always use this meeting as a chance to say where I have been in South Yorkshire in the previous week, who I have met and what I have found. I know that senior officers will have a cornucopia of statistics about crime and anti-social behaviour across the county. I don’t need to add to that, but what I can do is supplement that with a bit of local colour, rather as the correspondent does in that BBC programme.
Sometimes, for example, I will go to a place where the crime and ASB figures are worrying. But the people I meet locally tell me they have every faith in the police. Why? Because their local neighbourhood team take steps to keep them informed; or they do a high visibility patrol a couple of days a week down the high street and this is re-assuring; and so on. We need to understand what reassures.
Sometimes I find the opposite. I go to a place where crime and ASB is low, but there is discontent. Why? Because there is under-reporting of some particular issues, perhaps because people are afraid. Sometimes I can catch what people are saying in their own words, and that is often quite revealing.
I will recount my stories like the foreign correspondent. Yes, they are anecdotal. Yes, I need to think carefully about whether people with a particular bias or axe to grind are feeding me correct information. But it can give a more rounded picture than statistics alone.
The Chief Constable listens. What happens next is, of course, an operational matter for her and her officers. But it does seem to me that this is one of the roles of the PCC, though not one that makes headlines.
The crooked path
From time to time someone is quoted in our local media saying ‘Lock them up and throw away the key’ – or something similar. While I understand the sentiment – let’s stop the career criminal from re-offending by taking them permanently off the streets – there is a flaw in the thinking. The flaw, quite simply, is believing that criminals stop their activities once inside. This is far from the truth – something that was brought home last week in a report to the Countywide Community Safety Forum, which I chair.
The forum brings together representatives from each of the statutory district community safety partnerships whose task is to bring together local organisations in each local government area – Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield – to reduce and prevent crime and the fear of crime and keep people safe. One partnership report reminded us that the city of Doncaster is unique in South Yorkshire in having a prison. In fact, not one prison but five.
These five prisons hold offenders from every part of the country and many of them are members of organised crime gangs in the places from which they came. The report estimated that each prison could hold on average men from 48 separate gangs. In prison they continue their offending behaviour. They may be violent towards other prisoners or staff. They seek to corrupt prison officers. Some seek to run their gangs at a distance, smuggling small, not easily detectable, plastic mobile phones into the prison.
South Yorkshire Police work with prison officers in the prison to tackle these crimes, disrupting the activities of the criminals. This Prison Crime Unit handles an average of 150 live investigations.
So the mantra ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ betrays a woeful ignorance about the realities of criminality and incarceration. It is no solution, but indicates that someone would sooner bury their head in the sands than think constructively about how to make us all safer.
Unfortunately, crime does not stop at the prison gate.
Stay safe and well