Climate change is having an impact on policing in two ways.
The first is one that I have written about before – the need to reduce the force’s carbon footprint. There are several aspects to this. Petrol and diesel vehicles will have to be phased out and replaced. Electric charging points will have to be provided. Buildings will have to be heated more efficiently, better insulated, solar panels introduced, and so on. There may be better ways of using buildings by sharing them with other public services, such as Fire and Rescue – something we already do at Maltby and with the vehicle repair shop in Rotherham. And so on.
But climate change will have other consequences. We know something about what they will be, but we cannot know where or when they will happen. These are the extreme weather events that have been happening across the world now for the last few years – extreme heat, extreme cold, floods and fires. We saw something of this in parts of South Yorkshire with significant flooding from the River Don between Sheffield and the Humber, especially around Doncaster. We also had temperatures in the high 30s leading to fires in several parts of the county as grasslands and moors caught alight. Later this year there is the possibility of El Nino causing the kind of high temperatures in the UK that we witnessed recently in Spain.
Part of my holding to account role is to see whether the police are prepared for such eventualities. Which raises the question: how do you prepare for the unknown and unpredictable?
This is where I think the police are doing what they can. They call it scenario planning. I have been to some of these training sessions.
Essentially, they consist of taking a group of senior officers, putting them round a table together, giving them an imagined situation, and asking them to plan what they would do next. To make the situation more realistic, from time to time, as the day goes on, more information is given so that plans have to be adapted or changed.
In this way, officers are schooled not in how to meet this specific challenge or that, but in how to meet any challenge that might present itself and how to be flexible if the scene changes. These are the sorts of skills – imagination, the ability to remain calm under pressure, flexibility – that are needed whatever event comes along.
I believe we have a force that is as well prepared as any can be given that we don’t know what is coming, only that something almost certainly will come as result of climate change. In the South Yorkshire floods and fires we saw this capability tested for real.
Hope for the fearful
Crimestoppers is not the police. It is an independent charity that gives people – in their words – ‘the power to speak up and stop crime’. Specifically, it enables people to report a crime anonymously, by phone or on-line.
There are times when the ability to do this can be quite crucial. When, for instance, a serious crime happens in a community such as violence involving a weapon, or an offender on the run is spotted or a child at risk is noticed, people are often understandably reluctant to come forward to the police to give information. They fear reprisals. Or they are anxious about giving their own personal details. Contacting Crimestoppers is a way of acting responsibly without drawing attention to yourself.
Crimestoppers is a national body, ‘open’ 24/7. They take the information they are given and pass it to the relevant local police force. I have been reading their latest Annual Report. Last year, 1500 people made contact every day.
The charity was started almost thirty years ago by Lord Ashcroft, its current chair, and others in particular circumstances. In 1985, a police officer, Keith Blakelock, was murdered on a London estate. But no one was willing to come forward and give the police the information they needed if the killer was to be identified and brought to justice. Lord Ashcroft and some colleagues were appalled and so they set up the charity. Since that time it has grown and now operates nationwide.
It works because anonymity is absolutely guaranteed. As they say in their latest annual report, ‘To those who are fearful to contact the police, we offer hope. We offer people a way to pass on what they know about a crime without giving any personal details. Ever.’ As a result, they challenge the perception that there is no alternative. ‘Instead of saying, “stay silent, stay safe”, it’s “speak up, stay safe”’.
The Annual Report gives a number of examples of what Crimestoppers achieved in 2022. These are just three:
* After an appeal about a violent sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl, someone contacted Crimestoppers and told them about one of the attackers – no name, but where they worked. This small detail enabled the police to find and arrest the man.
* A caller gave the UK address of a man wanted for murder for eight years whom the authorities believed had gone abroad. Two days after the information was given the man was arrested.
* They were told about a man who was continually beating his wife and his two-year old child with a stick. Police attended. The man, who had already broken bail conditions, was taken to court and the family safeguarded.
Crimestoppers telephone is: 0800555111
The King and I
I have one thing in common with police officers: we have both sworn oaths of allegiance to the monarch. The police do so at what is called the attestation ceremony – when they first become a warranted officer. In front of a magistrate the oath starts with these words:
I (name) of South Yorkshire Police, do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the King in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality…
As an Anglican priest I did something similar when I was first ordained and then each time I took up a new clerical appointment. During the course of my working life I must have taken the oath about half a dozen or so times. So when we were all invited to join in with the oath-taking at home during the Coronation ceremony on Saturday, it didn’t seem such a big deal for me. However, asking the population as a whole to do so seemed unnecessary and unwise, opening up a debate about the institution of the monarchy.
The reasons clergy and police officers take the oath are not quite the same. For clergy it is all about being part of the established church where the King is the Supreme Governor. But for the police it is an important assertion of their independence from politicians. They are servants of the crown not the government of the day: they keep the King’s peace. This is important. It is a reminder that the police have operational independence, which is vital if they are to serve all our many communities with impartiality and fairness.
This is the 150th blog I have written. I started during the lockdowns. Since I was not able to go to any community groups and meetings, I felt one way of keeping at least some of the people of South Yorkshire in touch with what I was doing, finding or thinking was to write a short weekly blog.
When the restrictions were removed and I could meet people again, I said the blogs would cease. But a number got in touch to ask me to continue them, which I have done. We have several thousand readers.
The blogs are usually about 1300 words in length – so I will let you do the maths: 150 x 1300. That is probably the equivalent of three novels and must be more even than War and Peace. And unlike War and Peace, dare we say, we may have read the blogs from start to finish.