As Police and Crime Commissioner I also chair the Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB).
The LJCB brings together all those organisations in South Yorkshire that are involved one way and another with criminal justice:
- The police
- The Crown Prosecution Service
- The courts
- The prisons (we have 4 in Doncaster)
- Youth offending teams
- Probation Service (who oversee the most serious offenders)
- Community Rehabilitation Company (who oversee the less serious offenders)
- Victims and Witnesses services
Normally the LJCB would meet on a quarterly basis, but as soon as we realised what the crisis meant for criminal justice, we realised we had to meet more often. All our organisations were hit by the restrictions and we needed to come together to see how we could help one another to recover and get back to something like ‘normal service’.
We all struggled at first. Where we could work from home we had to – and that meant ensuring that all staff had the appropriate equipment at home to do so – from laptops to IT that enabled remote meetings. My flat looks like a branch of PC World. Staff had to learn how to set up and receive Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams – each organisation seemed to prefer a different way of working remotely. We had to understand whether some staff were affected directly by coronavirus, either because they had relatives who were vulnerable, or they were themselves.
The police had plans for absences at different levels – though as it turned out, we never reached the absence rates they feared might happen.
The courts were unable to function until it was worked out how social distancing could be observed. This is still an issue for the Crown Court. One major problem is a trial with multiple defendants with all the defence barristers and witnesses that entails. At the time of writing there has only been one jury trial since March, though they are now set to resume.
Collectively we have sought to help the courts, though we are very much in the hands of the judges who make the decisions around such matters as the listing of trials and the suitability of alternative buildings for courts (so called Blackstone or Nightingale courts).
Each week I have been able to speak directly with either the policing minister, Kit Malthouse (Home Office) or the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC (Ministry of Justice). And I have spoken to the Recorder, HHJ Jeremy Richardson QC, as well as having him address the LCJB.
We have learnt a lot and some practices forced on us will probably not change. So, for instance, a lawyer can now speak to his client in the custody suite by telephone without having to go there in person. And we have realised that we don’t necessarily need to have every LCJB meeting in a committee room in police headquarters.
Though I do miss being able to see colleagues for real – and the chats before and after a meeting where you pick up so much valuable informal information.
Assaults on officers
Each Monday I meet with the Senior Command Team and we go through the incidents that have occurred over the previous weekend. It’s mainly a list of depressingly familiar crimes – from theft to murder – with some good results being noted as well. But recently I have found it quite shocking to hear about a growing number of assaults on officers.
At first this seemed to be Covid-related with detainees spitting and coughing into officers’ faces. But lately the assaults have become much more physical and aggressive. It is hard to know what this is all about. It may be partly related to the lifting of restrictions and some frustrated people venting their anger against the police. It may be a carry over from the highlighting of incidents in the US where there has been some shocking police conduct. Whatever it is, we need it to stop and that requires the collective effort of all of us. We need to make it clear that this is not how we want our police to be treated. If they fail to live up to the standards of their own calling, that can be dealt with. But attacking police officers (and other emergency service workers) who are simply doing what we ask them to do on our behalf should not be tolerated.
This gratuitous violence towards the police has no place in our county.
I hope you are staying safe and well.