PCC Blog 133

This is the time of year when I have to make some critical decisions.

First, I must agree the budget for policing and the funding for some other services for the coming financial year (April 2023-March 2024).

Second, arising from that, I must make a proposal for the amount of money I shall ask householders to pay towards it through their council tax – the precept. I will then take this proposal to the Police and Crime Panel, whose approval I need. The Panel consists of councillors from each of the four district councils – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield – and an independent member.

In preparation for this, I have a legal duty to consult the public on what they are prepared to pay. At the same time, I ask people what they want to see from the police. This year’s consultation has been running over several weeks and concluded at the weekend. Almost three thousand people have responded, which is more than we have had in past years.

As far as the precept goes, the majority of people have said they are prepared to pay a little more for policing and a sizeable number have said they would be prepared to pay an increase in line with inflation. This has come as a surprise to me, given the cost of living crisis; and it is different from the more negative response we had last year.

This willingness to pay a little more indicates that people in South Yorkshire currently have confidence in the police; but if that confidence is to be maintained, it is vital that the public know it is not misplaced. One of the key ways in which that is shown is through the reporting of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). As it happens, there was an inspection of the force last year and the report from this PEEL inspection – police effectiveness, efficiency, and legitimacy – will be made known later this month. If that is a good report, I shall have confidence in going to the Police and Crime Panel and then the public to ask for some increase in precept.

Retention, retention, retention

Looking ahead, I am more convinced than ever that retaining the present and coming generations of police officers in policing will become one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, facing chief constables in years to come. This is not primarily about pay, though it includes the question of pay, but is about working conditions, well-being and support – all the things that are currently factors across the public sector generally as everyone struggles to retain staff.

The new generations of police officer have new expectations.

Unlike police recruits in the past, all police officers now will either have a degree before they start, or they will acquire one in the earliest stages of their training. This is going to have unintended consequences. Some of those are probably unforeseeable at this moment, but at least one can be predicted and if it is not thought about carefully, will have serious consequences for retaining those recruited.

The force is professionalising fast. As it does so, police officers are acquiring skills that are prized in many workplaces – educated to graduate level (with all fees paid!), computer and IT literate, highly flexible and adaptable, team players, trained in ‘problem solving’, and so on. Highly desirable skills and not just in policing.

In the past, many officers stayed in the force all their working lives not only because they were committed to public service but because it was not easy to find another job that paid as well and was as secure – police officers cannot be made redundant. But the skilled officers of today and tomorrow will realise that they can move; there are many other reasonably well-paid if not better paid jobs open to them, and so they can move with confidence. They will, therefore, balance the job they wanted to do and the security it continues to offer with the benefits of moving to other good jobs now open to them. They will remain in policing because they too are committed to public service and want to do the job they have been inspired to do; but they have expectations of that job and will not feel trapped if things do not work out as they hoped. They have, and know they have, transferable skills.

Retaining these new generations of officers will, therefore, be harder than in the past. Other professions and occupations, for example, may make it easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially when families come along. Over time, the reality of working over Christmas, or suddenly having leave cancelled, or having to put in long hours and weekends in order to bring a complex investigation to a speedy and successful conclusion, starts to take its toll. And again, smaller and less diffused organisations may enable people to feel more valued and their contribution more appreciated. Police officers and staff can easily feel unacknowledged and undervalued if they are working at a remote distance from senior command teams or working invisibly at unsocial hours.

In future, therefore, chief officers will have to pay greater attention to the well-being of officers and staff and to develop a sensitive approach to deployment and to what is asked of people. The particular skills of chief officers will have to include being fine-tuned to the changes that are happening with the arrival of a graduate profession and to what those new cohorts see in other occupations for which their skills qualify them.

Retention is the big issue. It is one thing to recruit an extra 20,000 officers nation-wide. It will be  quite another to keep them over a working life.

Partners against crime

it’s not often that we receive unsolicited compliments or thanks from members of the public, but we do sometimes. When it happens it causes us to think carefully about what we got right!

Last year in the summer we received a cry of help from a resident in a South Yorkshire suburb. I went with one of our engagement officers to meet her and some of her neighbours. They spoke about how their very pleasant road was blighted by the activities of a single household who dealt drugs and indulged in various forms of anti-social behaviour (ASB) – noisy and neglected dogs kept in a garage, threatening behaviour, and so on. It no longer seemed safe to let their children onto the street.

As with much ASB, there was no single organisation or agency that could solve these problems alone. It required a concerted effort, principally from the council and the police.

Among the actions taken was the installation of a camera (MoCam) to detect and record ASB. The council’s Night Response team also came out, heard the noise and nuisance and saw the neglected animals. The council’s solicitor is looking at what actions could be taken following from this.

The resident wrote this:

“I last contacted you in September to say that, since the MoCam was installed, the drug dealing had decreased; however, it was early days and we wanted to see what would happen in the longer term. I am pleased to say that the change has continued: since the installation of the MoCam, the street has been so much better, and the well-known local drug dealers have barely been seen on the street. We are obviously incredibly grateful this has happened…..there have been no dogs in the garage for months now.……for the last three months our street has been back to being a quiet and harmonious place……… Thank you (and the PCC) very much for whatever has been going on behind the scenes, because there has definitely been progress, and we really appreciate the efforts of everyone involved.”

Sometimes people write to me with more than a hint of despair in their words. The issues – especially ASB – seem impossible to resolve. But, as this example shows, differences can be made when partners and people meet, not in an antagonistic way, but with a determination to work together to make a tangible difference.

Stay safe.