PCC Blog 114

From time to time I mention roles that police officers undertake that may not often, if ever, come to mind as far as most of the public is concerned. One such role is that of the negotiator.

Negotiators are skilled officers who are called upon when someone is threatening to take their own life. This is not an everyday occurrence, but over the years I can recall instances in South Yorkshire where a negotiator has been involved. Of course, by the time the negotiator is sent for, other officers have also been doing what they can, sometimes for quite sometime. The negotiator is the last attempt to bring about a non-violent resolution.

In fact, we probably are aware of mediators because from time to time they feature in films or TV series about the police. In fiction, though, while the stand-offs may be very intense, the mediator always succeeds and the woman on the bridge or the man with the can of petrol is talked out of what they were intending to do. But, as Superintendent Neil Thomas, the Doncaster officer who leads the small team of negotiators in South Yorkshire, points out, it is not always like that in reality. He retires later this year and was writing about his experiences in the force’s well-being house magazine SYP&Me.

He recalls being the first negotiator at a domestic incident with an armed man. He talked to him for nine hours before he was replaced by other colleagues. But the siege went on for three days and at the end of it, the man killed himself.

Reflecting on this, Superintendent Thomas acknowledges that dealing with these situations is highly stressful for officers. Even though they know it would be unrealistic to suppose every incident can have the outcome they want, they are inevitably under huge pressure to succeed and afterwards, whatever the outcome, they take the emotions and the strains and stresses home with them. Part of the job as the head of the team – the force lead – is to be alert to this and to ensure that the right support is given to negotiators and their families.

There are some particular places in the county where, sadly, people are known to go in an attempt to take their life – motorway bridges are a well-known place. These places are patrolled from time to time in an attempt by the police to prevent suicide as far as they can.

I take this moment to thank Superintendent Thomas and the mediators for what they do and to wish Neil a good retirement. This work may be largely unseen but that does not mean that it is not valued or not appreciated.

Dog bites

As you know, each morning at about 6am I receive by email called the Chief’s Log – a summary of the main incidents involving the police across South Yorkshire from the preceding 24 hours. It is a familiar, and often depressing litany of rapes, robberies and assaults, missing persons and people in mental health crises.

But recently there has been a wave of incidents that occur from time to time but just lately seem to have become more common: aggressive dogs. The dogs in question would appear to have similar characteristics. They are cross breeds and look like versions of pit bull terriers. Pit bulls are, of course, illegal. After 15 fatalities between 1981 and 1991, they were banned in this country. Other banned animals include Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Filo Brasiliero. All were bred to be aggressive and prized for their fighting qualities.

There may be other dogs that have genes from these banned dogs from somewhere in their history but they cannot be seized because they are cross-bred.

The attacks in South Yorkshire have not only been on strangers but have also included dogs turning on their owners or other family members. Children and babies have been bitten and we can only imagine what might have happened if adults had not been around to distract the dogs or pull them away. It is not unusual for the owners to say they couldn’t understand why the dog had suddenly attacked because they were normally so friendly and playful.

From time to time I see these types of dog being taken for walks by their owners, and I think I understand why some people like to have a dog which looks aggressive but, they believe, is so affectionate towards them. But the warning signs are clearly there: if in their heritage is a dog that at one time was prized because it could be trained to attack, that aggression may be latent; and who knows what might trigger it into action.

I am sorry for those who find themselves confronted by such a dog. And I don’t think it is a pleasant duty for officers when they are called to such incidents and have to deal with the animals. But we sorely need a national campaign to persuade people who are contemplating acquiring this type of dog, especially where they have children, to think again. However friendly and affectionate, they can turn in an instant.

Unsolved crime

Last week Her Majesty’s Inspectors issued a report on the police response to burglary, robbery and other serious acquisitive crime such as car theft. This was a national report commenting on the performance of forces across the country. It made for very uncomfortable reading.

Charge rates for these crimes are very low and have dramatically decreased in recent years. Only seven percent of all robbery offences and four percent of thefts result in a charge. Yet these crimes have a huge impact on the public. A burglary, for instance, is often spoken about as feeling like ‘a violation’.

It was for this reason that in this year’s Police and Crime Plan I highlighted the need for the police to do more about these neighbourhood crimes and made this an area of focus that I would be particularly questioning them about at the monthly Public Accountability Board.

There are many reasons why performance in this area is not good and why it is not likely to improve as speedily as we would all want:

– the decade of austerity saw the capacity of the service run down as officer numbers fell and  recovering from this takes time (it is the same story with the run down of professionals in the NHS, such as doctors and nurses)

– there is a national shortage of detectives

– the demand on the police for non-crime reasons has grown and is growing – finding missing persons, dealing with people in mental health crisis, and so on

– the loss of many experienced officers through retirement in the next few years

– the arrival of big numbers of new recruits who will not be through their training period for two or three years, but who need supervision by experienced officers in the meantime

All this puts pressure on the police, but is not something HMI can easily comment on directly.  Nevertheless, neighbourhood crimes must remain a priority for the force. The public need to know that these crimes, which are as disturbing for communities as they are distressing for individuals, will be thoroughly investigated and victims will be informed about progress.

Ee Mungo Nguvu Yetu

Last week Kenyans in Sheffield and surrounding areas launched an association – Kisha-UK – to bring together members of that scattered community for mutual fellowship and support. It was a joyous and colourful family occasion with speeches, music, a fashion show (Alicia Nang), food and dancing, held at the police Conference and Leisure Centre on Niagara Road, Sheffield.

The chair, Sally Nyinza, invited a number of public representatives to say a few words. Gill Furniss MP declared the association launched, the Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Colin Ross spoke about a visit he had once made to Kenya and I said a few words as Police and Crime Commissioner. I took the opportunity to hope that some of the young people who were there might consider South Yorkshire Police as a career.

The force lead for encouraging diversity, Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, was there as well as some police staff, officers from two local neighbourhood teams, Walkley and Broomhall, and three cadets. They played football with some of the children and young people and showed them their police vehicles. These are important engagement opportunities for the police if trust between them and some in the minority communities is to be overcome.

I was particularly moved by the singing of the Kenyan national anthem. It was like a traditional song, as a mother might sing to her child, and very different from some of the more militaristic anthems of some states. The first line – see in bold above for the Kiswahili – translates as:

O God of all creation

Bless this our land and nation …

The last verse has this:

Let all with one accord

In common bond united

Build this our nation together

And the glory of Kenya

The fruit of our labour

Fill every heart with thanksgiving.


Stay safe