The Independent Race Equality Commission (REC), commissioned by Sheffield City Council and supported. by all the political parties, launched its report into racism and racial disparities in the city last week at an event in the Millennium Gallery.
The Chair, Professor Kevin Hylton, and 24 commissioners, had spent two years considering six main areas of city life and receiving evidence:
- Business and Employment
- Civic Life and Communities
- Crime and Justice
- Sport and Culture
Their conclusion was that ‘racism and racial disparities remain significant in the lives of Sheffield’s citizens.’ The report challenged a number of what it called ‘anchor institutions’ – such as the police and the universities – to examine their practices and make changes which, they believed, will make the city more inclusive and anti-racist.
I was asked to respond to the report along with representatives from the health sector and the universities. (The fact that no one was there from the business community seemed a bit of a lacuna.) We each said we welcomed the report and would be looking at the recommendations addressed to our various sectors to understand what was being asked of us and how we might best take things forward. (In a statement, the Chief Constable also welcomed the report.)
I made the point that the model of policing the report was unconsciously using was the one British policing has accepted since Sir Robert Peel first enunciated it in the nineteenth century – that policing should be ‘by consent’. This is the British approach – that the police do what we, the public, ask of them. This is why our police, almost alone among the world’s police forces, are not routinely armed: the public support what they do. This works only as long as the police can keep public trust, which is why, as far as possible, the force needs to look like the diverse communities it serves and why it must understand those different communities and treat them with appropriate cultural sensitivity and respect.
The Commission recognises that a report by itself achieves nothing; it lies on shelves and gathers dust. So they proposed the creation of an on-going continuation body to monitor progress.
In different ways those of us representing the anchor and other organisations made it clear that none of us begins with a blank sheet: all organisations have been working hard on their own plans to make their organisations more inclusive and to drive out discrimination. The police, for example, have a national strategy agreed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing called the Police Race Action Plan. I have an Independent Ethics Panel who monitor the force’s attempts to be more inclusive and the use of stop and search. It would be a waste of time and money to duplicate these efforts, so we will need to speak to the continuing body once established to agree ways forward.
One thing that did strike me, however – and perhaps this is because my home town, Leicester, is one where the minority ethnic communities are probably now the majority – was how ethnically white Sheffield remains. I don’t know how much time the commissioners spent pondering their own statistics, but looking at the data they assembled for each of the 28 wards in the city, the white population fell below 50% in only one – Burngreave (41%). In fifteen wards the figure for white residents was over 90%, in six it was over 80%, in three it was over 70% and in a further three it was over 60%. In Darnall it was 50%. Perhaps the more interesting questions, then, are yet to be asked: such as how socially mobile are the ethnic minorities in this city as compared with, say, those in my home town and what makes the difference.
One of the most interesting of the demographic statistics – though it was not particularly developed – was that of the school age population. The annual School Census shows that 39% of all primary school age students and 37% of secondary age in Sheffield are from minority ethnic groups. (And I presume this has been the case for a number of years.)
This caught my attention because it would be relevant when considering such matters as stop and search and the disproportionality that exists there. For, if those who are stopped and searched are mainly males aged between 17 and 35 – which they are – the School Census suggests that this age demographic has within it a disproportionate number of young people from minority ethnic groups. That won’t explain disproportionality entirely but it should give pause for thought – and perhaps in ways the Commission had not thought of.
Return of the neighbourhood teams
Last week I came across two neighbourhood police teams in different parts of Sheffield. They each illustrated very well aspects of neighbourhood policing and why it is so important.
In the first, I was asked to attend a meeting of the Langsett and Walkley Community Association on the Langsett estate. A sergeant and three police constables came, though within a few minutes two officers were called to an incident elsewhere in the district.
Some of the residents spoke with some passion and feeling about crime and anti-social behaviour on the estate. The Sergeant listened and took note. What impressed me was first the detailed knowledge he had of the area. When people spoke about a particular building or street, he knew exactly what they were talking about. He gave information about police activity that is already going on but – and this was the key part of the evening – he promised to report back to further meetings and to individuals who had asked questions.
What I saw on the Langsett was policing by consent in action. Officers were listening to what people were saying about their area and responding appropriately. If we can see this being embedded across South Yorkshire we shall have made significant progress.
In the second instance, I went to a drop-in event at Westfield Community Centre where two of my staff had a stall alongside a police stall with members of another neighbourhood team. They were talking with any residents who dropped in.
I spoke to one of the student officers. She is currently attached to the neighbourhood team for ten weeks as part of her training which she is doing partly ‘on the job’ and partly through study at Sheffield Hallam University towards the professional degree.
She told me how she had been going in to Westfield School to talk to pupils and was able to tell them that she was from the area, had been a pupil at the school herself just four years ago and was now a police officer with the prospect of a university degree and a good career. Again, we speak all the time about the need for the police to look like the communities they serve. There could be no better example than this, no better role model for the young people she met.
My guess is that the school visits by that officer have a far greater impact on those particular pupils than anything we might do by way of formal advertising including advertising for recruitment. So what are the lessons we can learn from that?
Sticking to the script
Last week we were paid a visit by some civil servants from the Home Office. Given the turmoil at the top of government I took the opportunity to ask them whether a change of ministers was likely to be followed by a change of policy. I was particularly anxious to know whether the commitment to increase officer numbers by 20,000 would remain. The point here is that if inflation continues we will have difficulty balancing the books in future years if we have to maintain police officer numbers at that level. Being able to decrease police numbers by a few would relieve the pressure on the budget and so the need to increase council tax or make cuts elsewhere.
They gave me the quite proper reply: this was a manifesto commitment of the government in 2019 and whoever is the Prime Minister or Home Secretary or Policing Minister, the commitment remains.
But wait a moment, didn’t they also say they would not raise national insurance?
Stay safe and well