PCC Blog 166

Crimestoppers is a charity, independent of the police, that helps people to report crime anonymously. From time to time it also runs national campaigns and last week did so on social media highlighting three specific ‘acquisitive crimes’ where there is a countrywide upward trend. The crimes were: theft, robbery and burglary. The national year-on-year increases are these:

  • theft 15%
  • robbery 13%
  • burglary 4%

Theft is where property is taken but not through the use of force. Robbery involves force or the threat of force. Burglary involves the illegal entry of a building and taking of property.

Each has a considerable impact on individuals and communities and the overall sense of safety and security. Those who have been burgled will often talk about the feeling of shock, of violation and of nervousness about returning home subsequently, or just being in the house at the time of day or night when the burglary is thought to have happened. In some cases the trauma has incapacitated people over long periods of time. I remember calling once with neighbourhood police officers on an elderly woman, a widow in her late eighties, who had a ring taken from her hand while she slept. It was hard enough for her to deal with the fact that the burglar had come into the house unbeknown to her while was in bed, but the loss of something that had irreplaceable sentimental significance – her wedding ring – proved almost unbearable.

The crimes themselves often lead to other crimes. Burglars, for example, steal items to sell in order to satisfy a drug habit, which in turn fuels the illegal drugs trade.

Acquisitive crimes disturb the lives of individuals, but they can also devastate communities. A spate of burglaries causes fear in an area. Theft and robbery create a sense of insecurity in public places such as parks or town centres.

The campaign sought to raise awareness and make us all take some responsibility for our own safety. I recall being at a community meeting in the Crosspool area of Sheffield following several nocturnal break-ins at local shops. It transpired that one shop had been broken into repeatedly through the same ground floor, insecure back window. Each time, the shopkeeper had simply replaced the broken glass. One of the other shopkeepers present pointed out in no uncertain terms that if the residents wanted the help of the police, the police deserved their help as well by not being so complacent and looking out for their own security. Some messages are best delivered by someone other than a police officer.

Nevertheless, there are designing out crime officers (DOCOs) and I am surprised that more use is not made of them. A retail outlet in Doncaster, that had its plate glass front doors rammed several times as thieves broke in to steal, was finally persuaded by a DOCO to fit metal roller blinds that pulled down over the glass frontage after hours. Result: no more break-ins. Until, that is, one evening the person locking up at the store pulled the roller blind down but didn’t ensure it closed all the way to the ground. The thief wriggled under the gap of a few inches and made off with goods that he could push through the same small gap on the way out.

DOCO recommendations, though, do need to be put in place. The regional director of another well-known chain of convenience stores told me that they would continue to place items that were easy to pocket and thieve by the cash registers despite the advice of the police. These were impulse buys as people waited in the queue and they wouldn’t pick them up elsewhere in the store. They were also easy for shoplifters to grab and run.

Yes, of course, we are the victims. The criminals are those who thieve. But we really don’t have to give them a helping hand.

Past and present

A weekend ago I was talking to the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who is an old friend. I told him about a visit to Sheffield Hallam University and South Yorkshire Police earlier this year by a group of Indian police officers from the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh. He told me that he had made an official visit to India as Home Secretary in 2004, though the collaboration between Indian and UK police with South Yorkshire Police taking a leading role, went back before that time. I then discovered that the Special who started and still runs the Inspiring Youth project of South Yorkshire Police, Bobby Dev, was involved in those early collaborations.

Inspiring Youth is a unique scheme run by a dedicated team of serving and retried police officers and volunteers with year 9 and 10 students in a number of Sheffield schools. The young people work in their own time to build a folder and receive credits and awards. Whenever I have been to their awards evening I have always been impressed by the number of ethnic minority young people that the project reaches.

Bobby Dev told me about the historic links between the Indian and UK/South Yorkshire Police and gave me some of their conference material from 2002-2004 to read. There had been a number of large and impressive conferences and courses involving Indian and UK police in both India and this country. So, what I witnessed at Sheffield Hallam University was part of a much longer history that I was only dimly aware of.

What struck me about the conferences of twenty years ago, however, was how many of the major themes of that time are still issues for us today. Terrorism was a threat then and is still a matter of concern. Likewise, domestic abuse and the issue of abuse in ‘international marriage’ was highlighted as a growing concern – and has become a major issue. I think ‘international marriages’ were those marriages contracted in India by people who subsequently lived in the UK.

The conference reports make for fascinating reading – and there seemed to be many sensible recommendations or pointers to future development coming out of them. But it did raise the question of what became of the reports over the years. At one time, in my office, I had what I called the elephants’ graveyard – a cupboard full of reports, gradually accumulating Jurassic layers of dust.

If I have learnt one thing as Police and Crime Commissioner it lies here. I have seen so many reviews and commissions that ended with sets of recommendations – all excellent – but no consideration given as to how they should be followed up. No report should see the light of day unless the matter of how the implementation of its recommendations are to be progressed has been thought through. Otherwise its destiny is the digital version of my elephants’ graveyard.

Unintended consequences

(This is going to sound a little Donald Rumsfeld.)

All actions have consequences. Some are what we intended, but others are unintended. Sometimes, unintended consequences are neutral or even benign in their effect; but not always. It is the unintended and undesirable consequences that cause us most grief, especially where the desired consequence is good.

I recognised an unintended consequence of something that was intended and good last week – but I am not sure how it could have been avoided.

Some years ago I was a board member of the Youth Justice Board (YJB). The YJB oversees the criminal justice system as it applies to those aged 10-18. At that time we were locking up 3,000 young people at any one time in secure accommodation and young offender institutions (prisons) (YOIs). We worked hard to reduce the numbers – which was successful, with numbers falling to a few hundred. It meant that some prisons could be closed. These were the intended and good consequences.

But last week I met someone whose ‘local’ YOI was closed. He was sent to another. But this was much further away from where he lived and his mother and siblings; and public transport to reach it was very poor. It plunged him into despair. He was 17.

The intended consequence of reducing the number of young people sent to prison was good. The unintended consequence that saw young offenders separated from their family support by greater distances, was not. As the years have passed, young people sent to custody have got further from home.

Stay safe