PCC Blog 165

It was a warm and sunny day when I visited one of the projects we are supporting with a community grant. This is money seized from criminals that we recycle back into the communities that have been impacted by crime.

Angling for All takes place at the Bolton Brickyard Pond, a park between Bolton-upon-Dearne and Goldthorpe. As the name suggests, the pond was originally a deep pit at a brickworks which was flooded and turned into a fishing lake by local mineworkers when the works closed. After the coal mines also closed some fishing kept going but much of the pond became overgrown and out of use. In recent years a number of ponds have been created and brought back into use by dedicated local people. I was meeting one of them, Lenny Fowler, who leads the project we are supporting.

Briefly, each evening, and during the day in the holiday period, he meets any young people that want to learn how to fish and shows them the basics. For some time he and other volunteers have cleared away the brambles and lakeside vegetation, suppressed the lilies that would otherwise entirely cover the ponds and provided short platforms on which the young anglers can stand to fish. Now he coaches them, providing some with rods, though most of those I met seem to have saved and bought their own.

My interest, of course, was in what this project is doing for young (mainly) boys who might otherwise be getting into trouble.

The grandmother of one came up and spoke. She told me how the young lad had some issues at school. He seemed unable to focus. A mother said her son ‘couldn’t keep still for more than a few minutes’ – and went on to describe patterns of behaviour that we would probably call ADHD (attention deficit hyper activity disorder). Yet here they were fishing. For hours they would stand with their fishing rods, affixing wriggling and brightly coloured maggots, casting their lines, scooping up the catch in a keep-net – and doing all the things anglers do. Whatever ADHD is, it seems highly contextual. These boys had no difficulty focusing on fishing, taking instruction and getting on with one another.

A lady who comes regularly to the ponds with a group of dog walkers told me what a difference the presence of the young anglers had made to the area. It had once been a haunt of youths who were ‘up to no good’ and who frequently intimidated those who walked along the paths. Now it was a pleasure to take an evening stroll and watch the young people. The day I was there seemed idyllic with swans and other birdlife, a beautiful lakeside setting – and several bream were caught.

The leader gives his time voluntarily. By day he works in a referral unit, so knows how to handle those who do not find school an easy place to be. I have no doubt that as the years go by, many young people will have cause to thank him for the work he is doing. I also have no doubt that if we can’t support people and projects such as this, there are those in the community who are watching and will lead these young people in a very different direction.

Homicide – preventing and investigating

A week or so ago, two of our local newspapers carried a story about a recently published report by HM Inspectorate on how effective police forces were in preventing homicide. It was not a report about a particular force but a review of practices across a number of forces. South Yorkshire was one and some of the work of our force was mentioned as good practice. They were commended for the way they identified those with a tendency to violence – which may be domestic – with a view to preventing worse happening in the future.

It was a pity they were commended for their preventative work in a week in which there were four murders in the county, three in the space of 24 hours. The two stories – ‘force commended for preventative work on homicide’ and ‘four murders in one week’ – appeared side by side on the same page and seemed contradictory!

But the four murders do not negate the commendation by the inspectors.

Homicide is a rare crime. Most years we average something around 20, so four unrelated murders within one week is very unusual. But murders inevitably have a big and potentially long-lasting, life-lasting, impact – on families and friends, and on the wider community. They also have a considerable and immediate impact on the police service.

If a murder is to be solved the police must act very quickly. The crime scene has to be secured, the victim identified, relatives traced and informed. Forensic work has to be started at once – fingerprints, DNA, blood, clothing, mobile phones, and so on. Weapons have to be recovered, suspects identified, witnesses interviewed before their memories start to fail and falter. Time is of the essence.

There are detectives who work on homicide investigations, but not large numbers of them so a general call has to go out across the force for more help. Detectives will be asked to work longer hours – day and night – and dozens of other officers volunteer. And it all has to be managed and supervised by people who know what they are doing – otherwise the investigation may be compromised in some way.

This happens whenever there is a murder. But this particular week there were four – and all unrelated! This is a lot of hours and a lot of overtime. Murders are costly.

It is tiring and exacting work, though almost all will be unseen by us, the public. But the four murders all resulted in people being remanded in custody within 24 hours. Meanwhile, the work of evidence gathering and file building goes on.

By the time you read this I will have paid a quick ‘thank you’ visit to the Major Crime Unit – quick so as not to interrupt unduly. It has been – and still is – an exhausting time for them all. But our homicide teams are impressive.

Trust me, I’m a consultant

From time to time we employ consultants. A colleague challenged me about this. Why didn’t we sort our problems out for ourselves? Aren’t we the best placed to know our own business? How can we justify the expense?

I dare say that if we could sort everything out as easily as she suggested, we would. But sometimes we need help. And sometimes, even when we know the answers, we might want to call in a consultant. So why do I say that? What are the reasons for sending for a consultant?

I think I would highlight three. First, there are occasions where we need a particular expertise and knowledge that is just not available in-house. For example, at the moment South Yorkshire Police are looking at making efficiency savings. As with many public bodies, we cannot produce a balanced budget year-on-year without finding savings to support existing activity or fund new ones. So, we need someone who can show us where to look and how to look at the way the service is currently delivered with a view to doing business in a more timely and less costly fashion.

Second – and this is a very good reason for not attempting everything in-house – an external consultant can bring objectivity. They have no personal or emotional investment in any department, its people or its practices.

‘But’, my colleague said, ‘don’t you find that all the consultants ever do is tell you what you already know?’ Quite possibly, but if an existing member of staff says something needs to change, even if that is obvious to everyone – and it probably won’t be to all – that can be perceived as biased and lacking objectivity. The external consultant brings objectivity and in doing so brings the third reason for having them: authority. If they are making suggestions that make sense, even if obvious, or even if it involves some painful transitions, because of their expertise, knowledge and objectivity, they will command a certain authority.

There is one other requirement of a consultant – a certain personality. People need someone who will work alongside them, doing things with them and not simply to them.

I spent part of my working life in academic institutions where many people had theories and ideas that were rarely put to any immediate empirical test. But if you are a consultant in any sphere, your proposals will soon either succeed or fail. The consultant has to get things right. Their next job depends on it.

Stay safe