In a recent newsletter, one of our local MPs wrote that there were going to be more police officers in South Yorkshire and he wanted to see more of them in his constituency. That is a fair comment, though I am sure all 14 of our MPs in the county would want the same.
However, he then went on to say this:
“It is the job of the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner to decide where officers are deployed.”
This is not true and it’s also misleading.
Decisions about where officers are to be deployed are not matters for me, but for the Chief Constable. It is her job to run the force, not mine. The Chief Constable has total operational independence. In fact, I made a solemn declaration when I took on the role of Police and Crime Commissioner that makes this absolutely clear: “I will not interfere with the operational independence of police officers.”
I couldn’t do my job – holding the Chief Constable to account – if I were doing her job for her! If I did make operational decisions about where police officers should be deployed, I would have to hold myself to account for those decisions – which would be absurd.
The point is that I don’t have the professional expertise to make operational decisions; I am not a police officer. And police officers would wonder who was in charge if I were to start giving operational orders. So the question of where officers are deployed is a matter for the Chief Constable. The Commissioner has no part in that. I do not decide where officers are to be sent.
That misunderstanding was bad enough, but what the MP then went on to say became quite sinister. He suggested that in deciding where police officers should be deployed, my focus would be on: “Labour-run areas of Sheffield and Doncaster, meaning that Rother Valley will be ignored again.”
Leaving aside that word ‘again’, and the fact that Rotherham district, which includes Rother Valley, is run by a Labour-led council, while Sheffield is in no overall control, you can see here only too clearly why an elected Police and Crime Commissioner does not and should not make operational decisions for policing. They might be tempted to deploy officers, not for sound operational reasons, but to gain some sort of party political advantage – which is what the MP is suggesting.
If it were true that I determined where officers were to be deployed, that would mean that policing had become politicised. Key decisions would be taken on the basis of party politics and not on the basis of what is best for the policing of particular areas.
But this is what the MP is – misleadingly – suggesting.
So let me repeat and make quite clear, I am not responsible for the operational decisions of South Yorkshire Police, including which districts police should be sent to and in what numbers. The Chief Constable, and the Chief Constable alone, will decide how many of the new officers will go to Rother Valley – or anywhere else. And she will make that decision for police operational reasons.
But there is something that I can do. Because I have the power to raise the precept (council tax), I will propose this week a (below inflation) precept increase that will enable South Yorkshire police to go beyond the number of officers being funded by government grant as part of the 20,000 national uplift. There will be more officers in Rother Valley and all other constituencies, and they are going to make a difference, but exactly where they go will be decided by the Chief Constable on operational not political grounds.
So here are the numbers:
New recruits from March 2020 to March 2024
– National uplift (our share of 20,000) 504
– Local uplift (from council tax) 220
– Recruits to fill vacancies left by officers retiring or leaving 720
Total number of new recruits: 1,444
Total numbers of officers in the force by March 2024: 3,039
So for a few years, the force will be relatively young and inexperienced. But those officers will gradually be making their presence felt in whichever part of South Yorkshire the Chief Constable determines they should serve.
Pupils and Teachers
I had a Rotherham day last Thursday. In the morning I went to Winterhill School, Kimberworth. This is an 850 strong comprehensive with most of the young people then going on to Thomas Rotherham sixth form college. I was very impressed by how quiet the school was – no noise coming from classrooms and no running in corridors – and how totally litter free! And when we came to the hall, the year 8s gathered there seemed to have a real desire to learn and understand. The bright and beamish young people were soon answering questions or giving observations.
The purpose of the visit was to watch a presentation by Paul Newman, a Police Community Support Officer, on knives and guns. Talking to one of the teachers, it was clear that they believe these important messages need to be delivered as soon as possible to students. The young people here were aged 12/13.
Paul explained that he was local and would be speaking not only in general terms but also from his own experience. He had a power point presentation (put together by the Lifewise centre at Hellaby) which gave some of the facts and the law. I think many were surprised to learn that they were now over the age of criminal responsibility (which is ten) and that a criminal record acquired when young could follow you through life. The idea that you might not be able to visit Disneyworld in Florida if you had a record – because the USA would not let you in – was taken very much to heart. But so too was the fact that if you carry a knife you are more likely to become involved in a knife incident, and the notion of joint liability – that if someone in the group you are with commits an act of violence such as murder or manslaughter by stabbing, you could be held responsible as well.
But the most impactful part of the presentation came as we watched some video footage of local, Rotherham mothers who had lost children as a result of stabbing. They talked about the effect this had had upon their lives, that of other family members, and the local community. One mother talked about how she had always been able to ‘kiss his cuts and bruises better’ before. But not this time; he had bled to death.
It was a powerful talk.
Then in the afternoon I met a group of thirty or so retired teachers who meet in the Barn, by St Alban’s Church, in Wickersley. They asked penetrating questions, especially around police vetting, and made interesting comments, which I took away and thought long and hard about. I very much value these opportunities to meet different members of the public in different parts of the county for their insights and reflections.
The emergency service of first resort
One of our thoughtful blog readers, Norman Anderson, wrote to me last week about how the police get drawn into dealing with issues when other organisations and agencies fail in some way.
He recounted how last year at 11pm the main water supply to the close where he lives in Todwick burst and started to flood the neighbourhood. He looked on his water bill for an emergency number to ring. There was none. So he called the police.
The call handler, he writes, was ‘calm and professional’, and gave him the number. But then she said, “Leave it with me and I will sort it for you.”
Within thirty minutes a JCB digger had arrived and by daybreak all was sorted and fresh water restored.
“I think that is pretty impressive,” he said – and so do I.
But it does illustrate the sort of calls that police operatives have to deal with which are not strictly speaking police matters at all. But by default the police have become a 24 hour service for all emergencies, and sometimes the only one easily accessible.
Anyway, that story cheered me up at the start of a new week.