It seems that I am to be the last directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire.
When my term of office ends next May, there will be no further PCCs and policing governance will transition to the South Yorkshire Mayor. This is what the Mayor has asked the government for, what the leaders of the four district authorities support and what the government wants.
In order for this to happen, the government will cancel the next PCC election, bring forward the mayoral election (scheduled for 2026) to 2024, enable the mayor to take on the policing functions and allow him to appoint a deputy mayor to do most of the day to day work. At the moment only two other parts of the country combine the roles of PCC and mayor in the way being proposed – Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. (London has a different model.) In time Fire and Rescue will also be brought under the Mayor.
On Thursday, I attended the annual South Yorkshire Police Federation Bravery Awards.
Whenever I have been at this event, I have always wished members of the public could be present as well. We hear so much in the media about police behaving badly. This occasion shows the police behaving in ways that go above and beyond what we can reasonably expect of them – acts of courage and bravery that sometimes take your breath away just hearing about them.
So, for example, we heard about a couple of officers who were first on the scene at a blazing house in Doncaster. A fire in an upstairs bedroom was rapidly spreading toxic fumes throughout the building. The officers had to act fast to get the occupants out. They went into the building to help two elderly people. But one was overweight and had mobility problems. He had to be put on a mobility scooter – which didn’t work – in order to move him. And all this had to be done at speed. The officers managed to get them successfully to a place of safety.
We heard about a couple of officers, one of whom was a probationer at the time, who were called to a house where they believed a woman was in danger. The victim came to the door, frightened, saying she had been punched, strangled and raped by a stranger who was still in the building. Eventually he jumped from a roof and ran into the street. One of the officers gave chase. Despite being violently assaulted – which needed hospital treatment – the officer held on to him. By the time the probationary officer found them, both had passed out. But the rapist did not escape.
I presented awards to eight officers from Barnsley. The incident they were involved in began when two of them were confronted by a man in Barnsley town centre who had a loaded crossbow – a very frightening situation posing real risks to shoppers and pedestrians. They sent for backup. Officers made a shield barrier and forced the offender out of the town centre. He eventually dropped the crossbow, but then climbed over the barrier of a bridge and had to be negotiated to safety, where he was arrested. The bravery of the officers probably saved others from being hurt or worse that day. It seems that anyone can buy these lethal weapons online.
The above is just a snapshot of what we heard at the Bravery Awards. These are the sorts of things that potentially SYP officers can face any day or night. They have no advance warning. Their training will take them so far in understanding how to respond, but so often they have to use their own judgement as they make split second decisions that can mean life or death. But as they always say, when most people rightly run from danger, their vocation is to go towards it, to safeguard others.
I salute their courage and thank them for what they do.
The East House pub shootings
One very unusual award was made at the Bravery Awards – a posthumous presentation to the families of two officers who did something remarkable in 1960.
Two officers, now deceased, were first on the scene when a shooting incident took place at the former East House pub in Spital Hill, Sheffield on New Year’s Day, 1960. A gunman had already shot five people and had then shut himself in the pub’s outdoor toilets. The officers (in those days Sheffield Constabulary), PC Dennis Hastings and PC Gilbert Robertson, armed only with truncheons, kicked down the door and disarmed the attacker, probably saving many others from harm as a result. This was the first time their act of bravery had been acknowledged in this way.
There was a particularly poignant moment when the daughter of Gilbert Robertson came on stage to collect the award carrying her father’s helmet.
Joined up thinking
Last week I received a letter form National Highways – from an officer whose job title is ‘National emergency area project sponsor’.
She tells me that work will start on Monday 5 June on the M1 between junction 32 at Thurcroft and 35A at Stocksbridge to have new emergency areas added ‘as part of our National Emergency Area Retrofit’. ‘Retrofit’ reads as if this is something that should have been done before but wasn’t – but I may be wrong about that. Altogether, a further 12 emergency areas will be added to the existing 8 – so more than double. The work will not be completed until ‘winter 2024’, the left-hand lane will be closed throughout and speed limited to 50mph. So massive disruption for a long time.
The letter went on: this ‘investment in new emergency areas’ is designed to help road users not only to ‘feel safe’ but also to ‘be even safer on our roads’.
If building – at costs undisclosed – more emergency areas will make the roads safer, then why stop at 12 more? For maximum safety, why not join all the emergency areas together.
You could call it a ‘hard shoulder’.
What Ely is telling us
Last week there was a riot in the Ely area of Cardiff. This followed the death in a road traffic collision of two young boys who were riding an e-bike. The people of the area believed that the boys had been pursued by the police – hence the riot. The police and the Police and Crime Commissioner were quick to deny this, though some camera footage subsequently came to light apparently showing the bike being followed at some point by a police van. This muddied the waters. We shall have to wait for the investigation to complete before the truth is known. But it shows the level of mistrust that exists between the police and some residents.
Whatever the result of the investigation, what was revealed in the days following the disturbances was the state of some of our most deprived communities. Residents were not slow in coming forward to speak about life in this part of Ely. This is what a deprived community looks like: 66% of children are ‘income-deprived’ and 46% of adults have no qualifications of any kind. A cash-starved local authority struggles to maintain basic services and some – youth provision, for example – disappeared a long time ago.
This is the breeding ground for drug-dealing and criminal gangs where police cannot keep pace. The prevailing mood quickly becomes one of helplessness and hopelessness. It is hardly surprising that young people are drawn into criminality.
Ely is not the only deprived community in the country and parts of South Yorkshire resemble it.
We can’t say we haven’t been warned.