PCC Blog 123

‘Only connect’ said E.M.Forster in Howard’s End. But in recent months, as the crisis in the National Health Service and Social Care has deepened, we have realised just how much everything does connect.

Take Social Care. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) released its annual report last week, State of Care. They found a chronic shortage in staffing in care homes. Those staff shortages were preventing elderly patients being discharged from hospital into residential homes. That resulted in too few beds being available in hospitals and ambulances having to wait to discharge their patients outside A&E departments. In turn that was leading to long delays when people called for an ambulance, especially in non-life threatening situations.

Among those callers are the police.

We have noted before that the police increasingly find themselves called out to assist with people suffering mental health crises. The police are not medically trained – or at least not to make a diagnosis about a person’s psychological condition. If they find themselves in a town centre with someone in psychological distress they must send for an ambulance. There is an agreed protocol for how long that should take. But if every available ambulance is queuing outside one of our A&E departments, there is not a lot the Yorkshire Ambulance Service can do. So the police will have to stay with the person until an ambulance is free or some other solution can be found – and that could be hours. Hours in which a police officer is not, for instance, calling on someone who has been burgled.

So the crisis in the NHS and Social Care is also a crisis for policing. Because everything connects.

Suppressing crime: what works?

South Yorkshire is one of twenty police force areas (out of forty three) that has a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). The VRUs are mainly in the most urban areas of the country where some of the most serious violence is found.

This year the VRU areas were given funding by the government to tackle serious violence more intensively. It’s called GRIP funding and starts with the identification of those places where most violent crimes happen. In our county, force analysts have discovered that 50% of all (non-domestic) violent crime that takes place in a public space happens in fewer than 2% of places. From this, 60 violence hot spots have been singled out for particular focus.

One of the things the police have then been doing with GRIP funding is regular patrolling on foot in 30 different hot spots each day. Behind this lies a theory of patrolling that has been tried and tested elsewhere – so it is evidence based. (It comes out of the work of Professor Larry Sherman and the Department of Criminology at Cambridge University.) What the evidence shows, and what the police are doing here, is to patrol regularly in high visibility jackets for between fifteen and twenty minute periods at different times each day between 3pm and 12pm in the hot spots. The main point of the patrolling is to be seen.

It seems as if this 15-20 minute patrol is enough to send a powerful message around a community that the police are present and can suddenly appear at any time. That is the deterrent effect that leads to a suppression of crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB). Interestingly, the evidence is that this 15-20 minute period is all that is needed. Patrolling for longer makes no additional difference. The patrolling leads to a fall in crimes other than violence and in a wider area than the one being patrolled. So far GRIP has enabled 750 hours of additional high visibility patrolling this year.

As the officers make their way round the identified area, they deal with any crime and ASB they come across – breaking up fights, arresting wanted people, stopping and searching, and so on. The fear I had was that while this might suppress crime and ASB in the area patrolled, it might simply displace it elsewhere. This does not seem to happen.

The reason the police analysts can be sure that falls in crime/ASB are the result of the patrols is because each officer is equipped with a GPS tracker. The exact route and time the officers take within the prescribed area can be monitored and correlated with statistics for crime/ASB from that area. We need this information to be sure that the patrols really are effective. And the Home Office rightly require proper evaluation so that the theory is thoroughly tested.

GRIP funding should be available over three years so that by the end of it we shall have a great deal of good evidence about what works and how well. It is all being evaluated by university researchers.

This is just one further example of why, whenever we think about police officer numbers, we must also think about the police staff who are needed to do the analytical work and crunch the numbers – as well as those in call centres, custody suites, HR, IT, finance, and so on. If ‘eye-watering’ cuts are coming to public spending – Jeremy Hunt’s warning – police forces will have to reduce civilian staff while maintaining police officer numbers. This is because, so far, the government has not shifted from its 2019 election commitment to increase officer numbers overall by 20,000 by March next year – and beyond. We could end up with more police being less effective than they could be because the civilian staff are not there to support them. We need both civilian staff and officers.


Eight years ago this week I was elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the first time. What a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then!

I have now seen four prime ministers – with another coming shortly (I am writing this on Saturday) – five home secretaries (so far) and so many policing and justice ministers that I can’t recall them all. This year, some ministers came and went in a matter of days. In almost any other walk of life, this would be seen as a chronically unstable institution. Parliamentary democracy survives at times like this because the civil service endures, even if ministers do not. At least that is the theory. Even that theory falls over if ministers start sacking senior civil servants as well as one another, or if we have sudden and dramatic policy shifts, as we have just experienced with the mini-budget (Kwasi Kwarteng) and will soon experience again as the anti-mini budget is laid out (Jeremy Hunt) and the Office for Budget Responsibility comments.

But this degree of change does not make for good government. We need some stability and consistency of policy, and that applies to policing as to all other public services.

At this time of year, I meet with senior officers and the finance team to put together the budget for the coming year (April 2023-March 2024). The police look ahead and set out what the demands on the service will be and what appropriate workforce mix is needed – front line officers, detectives, staff and so on. And what we can afford.

But what we can afford starts with what the government will fund by way of grant, because 70% of our income is grant. And this is where we need some stability with ministers and funding.

At this moment in time, we do not know what the government grant will be for next year. We only know that there will be ‘eye-watering cuts’. We shall not know how great until the police grant is announced in the second week in December, which hardly gives any time at all if we have to make bigger cuts than we thought. In the meantime, I ask the finance officers to make the best guess they can as to what ‘eye-watering cuts’ might mean – and hope they get it right.

Jam today

Last week I dropped in on the Great Get Together Superjam, organised by Kathy Marwick at the Holiday Inn, Barnsley. Kathy brings together a large group of mainly older people every so often for tea, entertainment and conversation. They also support local charities. As I arrived, a professional singer was coming to the end of a selection of Elvis Presley songs. The mayor of Barnsley, Councillor Sarah-Jane Tattersall, was also there.

I asked various people what brought them to the Superjam. One told me she came with her husband because he is beginning to show signs of dementia and she wanted him to be with a group who understood that. Another said she started to come after all the lock-downs and restrictions had driven her mad. All said they were struggling with heating bills so it was nice to be somewhere warm.

I was asked to say a word about policing. I hoped they would all support the new officers who would soon be coming to the streets of Barnsley in the neighbourhood teams.

The mayor threatened to drag me onto the dance floor, so, leaving my engagement officer behind to eat scones, I made my escape. The singer had just begun to sing, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

I am trying.

Stay safe.