Headlines in the media last week made alarming reading for anyone involved with policing.
‘Police trust hangs by a thread’. ‘The Met is rotten to the core’. These were some of the more restrained comments. We can, however, hardly be surprised. It was bad enough learning about the crimes that David Carrick, a serving officer, committed against women. But it seemed unbelievable that they had been carried out over a period of nearly two decades and, despite many warnings, were never seriously challenged. The Met had missed opportunities on several occasions, but had not acted. How could this be?
It raised a sickening question: was what has been revealed happening elsewhere? Was it something systemic, even cultural.
As you may know, our Chief Constable, Lauren Poultney, is the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for counter-corruption. This is even more reason why we must be absolutely sure that what has been revealed in London is not happening here.
I have been heartened by what the Chief Constable has written to police staff and officers in South Yorkshire. In a recent message to them, she began by accepting that the challenge to policing was not just about the actions of one officer. It was ‘the systematic failure of the Met to deal with the officer at the earliest opportunity, and other subsequent opportunities’.
She went on to make it clear that ‘where we see wrongdoing, we will take action and we will support those who do’. ‘I don’t want one criminal officer to represent me as a police officer, and equally I don’t want the failings of one force to represent a service. It’s on each and everyone of us to ensure it doesn’t.’
The Chief Constable then explained why it was so important to establish a ‘call it out’ culture. This was not about being disloyal to friends but about ‘public safety at the highest level’. She rightly said that public trust and confidence will be nurtured if the police are seen to be people who call out wrongdoing and deal with it.
This is not easy. It takes courage and determination to call out someone who is part of your team or support network. But what kind of support network is it if it is not supporting you in upholding the values and high standards that all officers should aspire to and which the public demands.
Every police force is currently looking at its vetting procedures and whether anything in the past has been missed. I dare say some bad behaviour, some criminal behaviour, will be found, not least in London. But it must be done. If it isn’t, then we can expect to see more headlines of the kind we had last week.
When I first became Police and Crime Commissioner, trust and confidence in the police had been badly damaged in South Yorkshire because of what had happened locally – the Hillsborough inquest verdicts and the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. Andy Burnham, the current Mayor of Greater Manchester, who was then the Shadow Home Secretary, said the police here were ‘rotten to the core’ – the same words now being used following the Carrick revelations. It took a lot of time and energy by police here to throw off those accusations. It would be a tragedy if national issues should now impact on trust and confidence here after all that effort.
I believe the force here is doing everything it can to ensure this does not happen. The stakes are high, because our system of policing in this country is policing by consent. That only works if we, the public, are confident that the police are behaving well themselves.
Speaking for one’s supper
The Doncaster Chamber of Commerce is a lively group of men and women who have businesses in the Doncaster District.
Last week, I was invited to speak at one of their monthly dinners at the Crown Hotel in Bawtry. It was an evening fraught with anxiety – though all before I arrived. The M18 was closed due to a collision throwing large numbers of articulated lorries onto surrounding roads. Traffic islands in Hellaby were gridlocked for a time. By the time I arrived in Bawtry I was running late, and attempting to read how the parking meter operated in the darkness was trying. Trying but necessary since parking fees are charged up to 10pm in Bawtry.
The dinner was a lively occasion with good conversations. It is not often that I get to talk to those whose business is in insurance, or running a racecourse, or managing land and property at an i-port, a logistics and distribution centre. But it was important to do that since the crimes they wanted to speak about were in an altogether different league from those that I am normally concerned with.
When I look at statistics in future that record vehicle crime, for instance, I will know to ask in more detail. Are we talking about a car that has been stolen and the glove compartment raided, or is it a canvas-sided lorry with goods worth a quarter of a million pounds?
What quickly became apparent was the need for the police and business community to work very closely together. Fortunately, Chief Superintendent Ian Proffitt, the District Commander had also been invited, though in heavy disguise as a civilian, and he was able to speak in detail about what the police could do and were doing. His problem is one of capacity: he needs more officers. The demand for service in the Doncaster District is considerable and rising – 40,000 calls in December. And it is not easy to police: a big urban centre with a vibrant night-time economy but many scattered former pit villages and small urban areas, plus the rural areas between. Doncaster also has good rail and road links – which assist criminals – and four prisons, many of whose inmates don’t get much further than Doncaster on release.
But the new recruits are starting to come through and we hope that will make a significant difference.
Beyond the gates
I also learnt last week about a new initiative at the Doncaster prisons called Employment Boards. This was pioneered by one of the governors, Mick Mills, and brings together the prisons and local businesses.
Briefly, the Employment Board, chaired by a local business leader, matches offenders who are soon to be released, with employers who are looking for specific types of worker. The offender spends time over a twelve week period, going from the prison on a day release to the chosen place of work. The offender gets to know the business and the business the offender.
This means that when the time comes for the offender to be released, he has a secure job to go to which he knows he can do. Lack of employment is one of the biggest drivers for ex-offenders to fall back into old ways and start to re-offend.
These schemes are still being developed, but so far, in one prison over 70% of those ex-offenders participating were still in their jobs after several weeks.
This is really promising.