PCC Blog 125

Last Monday I spoke to a group of senior police officers, ten women and twenty men, from the state of Madhya Pradesh in central north India. They were here to take part in a short but intensive training course arranged by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) and South Yorkshire Police (SYP).

Over five working days they looked at different aspects of policing – digital forensics, problem solving with partners, counter-terrorism, public order, patrol tactics, cyber crime, child criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery and human trafficking, violence against women and girls, neighbourhood policing, and so on – meeting police across the county. They had flown from India to Birmingham the day before I met them. If they were jet lagged, they didn’t show it, asking many questions.

Indian police officersThey were curious about the role of the police and crime commissioner. They were surprised that I appointed the chief constable. In India, the head of the service is appointed by other senior officers and I guess they would be fairly wary of any political involvement.

I said we had about 1.3m people in South Yorkshire. In their state, they had 72m (according to the 2011 census) spread over a vast area. Many languages were spoken, though Hindi and English were common languages. Being multi-lingual was normal.

I met the officers again on Friday, their final day with us. The SYP staff officer who had been with them throughout told me about their visits to neighbourhood police in each of the districts. Wherever they went, members of the public had been friendly towards the local officers, waving to them and sometimes greeting them by name. This was something of a revelation to the Indian visitors, but it illustrated the basic principle of British policing – policing by consent. In return, SYP had their own moments of revelation. It seemed, for example, that in an attempt to enable women to come forward and report crimes, Madhya Pradesh has some police stations that only admit women and are entirely staffed by women officers.

The real value of these visits for SYP comes in the interaction that takes place between the officers on the ground talking to those doing something similar elsewhere in the world. One of the SHU lecturers said that whenever he brings together police from different countries, there is an immediate bonding. They recognised that they are all involved in a common enterprise – keeping people safe and beating back crime. And they have a genuine desire to learn from each others’ very different experiences.

It is, of course, a legacy of empire that we could communicate in English, and that was probably a major factor in their being here. Otherwise they might have been training in some other part of the world where policing is done differently.

China, perhaps.

Rural crime

Last week I attended two meetings in the countryside to hear about rural crime. The first was called by a local councillor for Anston and Woodsetts, Tim Baum-Dixon, and the second by the MP for Rother Valley, Alexander Stafford. Rural crimes are of two kinds. There are crimes that can happen anywhere – such as burglary or theft – which also happen in rural places, and there are crimes that can only happen in the countryside – such as the destruction of crops by quad bikes or badger baiting.

I went to each meeting with two police officers who have responsibilities for the off-road biking team and rural and wildlife crime, and two neighbourhood team officers. Those who attended the meetings in St Peter’s Church, Thorpe Salvin, and the community hall in Harthill, included farmers and two gamekeepers from the Earl of Scarbrough’s estate – where there are pheasant and partridge shoots – as well as those who live in the villages.

Those at the meetings feared that the issues faced by people who live in villages and on farms is not always given the priority it should. They felt that even the organised crime gangs who operate in the countryside are not always understood as well as the urban gangs. But the Police and Crime Plan that I produce each year giving SYP overarching priorities, is very clear that the rural areas must not be forgotten – which is why we need a rural crime team to implement the rural crime strategy. We covered a lot of ground – in every sense! – and I listened with great care to what was said and will hold it all in mind in the discussions I have with senior officers about resourcing in the future.

Some things stood out. The police off-road biking team (ORBIT) is highly valued and rated. The presence of police on motorbikes, nimbly going where officers in cars can often not go, is highly disruptive and acts as a considerable deterrent. Despite the squeeze on the public finances that we fear is coming, I hope we can see the biking team enhanced.

Several farmers spoke movingly about how isolated it is living in a farmhouse, especially on dark winter evenings. I think they thought I would have no personal knowledge of this, but in a former life I was for a short time vicar of Grayrigg (pop 242), a remote village in the Lake District – with no shop, no post office and no pub, though a superabundance of sheep. It was very beautiful – you can see the big hills as you travel up the M6 between Kendal and Penrith – but very, very dark at this time of year. I recall attempting to find tracks to farmhouses in deep darkness many times and once trying to cross fields to find the west coast mainline after a Virgin train derailed. So I understand why people in a rural area can feel so vulnerable if a crime is committed on their land or property at 4am in the depth of winter.

The value of the meetings were the relationships that were being developed between the police and those who live in this corner of the county on the border with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.


You may have been shocked to hear last week from His Majesty’s Inspectors that too many questionable people had been allowed to join police forces despite the system of vetting. Their report had been commissioned following the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer. They inspected eight forces (including the Met and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary) and found instances of recruits being allowed to join despite having committed such offences as indecent exposure, drink-driving, possession of controlled drugs, and so on. Others had financial problems or family members linked to an organised crime gang. Eighteen per cent of the 725 vetting files examined were found to have admitted such people. And there were officers who had made misogynistic comments about victims and others who had pursued women for sexual purposes.

Although South Yorkshire police (SYP) were not one of the forces investigated, the lead inspector said, ‘We believe that the poor behaviour towards women we were told about is prevalent in many – if not all – forces’.

Vetting is something I have asked senior officers about several times in recent months – and our chief constable is the national lead for counter-corruption. We can never be complacent. I have been assured on a number of points: SYP has rigorous procedures in place for new recruits and many potential recruits have been turned away; SYP encourages officers to call out any colleagues who exhibit racism or misogyny; a good deal of time and resource is being spent creating and maintaining a culture of respect for all – and this is something I have asked the Independent Ethics Panel to look at.

Why have so many slipped through the net nationally? One reason may be the big push to increase officer numbers by 20,000 within three years. In order to meet the target, some forces may have been less thorough than they should have been with vetting. If this is the case, they – and all of us – will come to regret it.

Another unintended consequences of a good policy whose implementation was not properly thought through.

Stay safe