PCC Blog 173

Following the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel and Israel’s subsequent response, I issued this statement:

“The wanton and inhumane terror inflicted on Israeli citizens and others who were in Southern Israel on 7 October was horrific and impossible to justify.

In addition, the terrorists were equally inhumane and reckless towards the people of Gaza, whom they claim to represent. They knew, but did not care about, the entirely foreseeable consequences that would follow for Gazans as a result of their pitiless actions. Israel, like any other nations, has a moral duty to protect its citizens and could hardly be expected not to react militarily – because that would signal weakness and invite further acts of terror from other groups.

In our free and democratic society, people will have different opinions about the issues at stake in the middle east. They have a right to express them publicly, provided they observe the law.

There is a distinction to be made between Palestinians and members of Hamas; a terrorist organisation proscribed in this country. Expressing support for the Palestinian people is entirely legitimate. The police will ensure that those who wish to show that support remain safe and free to do so. Expressing support for a proscribed terrorist organisation such as Hamas is, however, another matter and citizens will expect the police to take appropriate action against any that do.

Understandably, most people in South Yorkshire will want to show the deepest sympathy for those on both sides of this conflict who have lost lives or loved ones and are once more fearful for the future, not least because of the failure of political leadership in recent years.

In the past, members of the Jewish community in this country have been subject to threatening and abusive behaviour at times like this. Whether that behaviour is on the street or online, the police have a duty to protect them. Britain has its own history and we do not tolerate hate crime wherever it comes from or whoever it is directed towards. It is one of the greatest attraction of this country.

All our communities have the same right to be kept safe from those extremists who have nothing to offer but hatred and fear.”

Using your intelligence

Police intelligence does not interpret itself.

I dropped in on a training session for some of those who work in the police control centre – dispatchers and call handlers who take and deal with 999 and 101 calls. It was held at Robert Dyson House, the police training centre in the Dearne Valley. They have these quite intensive sessions three times a year.

I thanked them for what they do day to day because for most people they will be the first point of contact with the police. They need to respond appropriately first time, therefore, if there is to be a good outcome and if public trust and confidence in policing is to be maintained. But we don’t see them and it is easy to take them and their vital role for granted.

While I was there they were doing a desk top exercise. They were asked to say how they would respond to calls that were coming in about an unfolding incident. They were being told about what members of the public were dialling in about. A picture was gradually emerging of something major happening and they had to think hard: what were they hearing and what would they do about it? What was the appropriate police response? What other emergency services needed to be alerted?  How were they to be contacted and what was to be said to them?

As the incident developed, there were other agencies that needed to be brought in as well. Again, they had to think about who those agencies were and how they were to be informed.

And so the information kept coming and the way the situation was perceived evolved. They had to think quickly – and get it right, first time.

It struck me very forcibly as I listened, how key the call handlers and those in the force control room are if the police are to respond in timely and appropriate ways, because they have to interpret and make sense in real time of the information coming in. And people who contact the police at these times are not necessarily speaking in a calm and unemotional or well-ordered way.

Which raises the broader point. Policing more generally is as good as the intelligence, the information and data it receives. But none of this interprets itself. You need the intelligence and the data; but you also need people who can analyse and make sense of it. And get it right.

Interestingly, I was in touch last week with an old colleague from the days when I taught military ethics (through the UK Defence Academy). We recalled a presentation we once had from a member of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) which touched on this matter of intelligence and the need to make sense of it. This is something they have to deal with on a daily basis – and get it right.

We spoke about the apparent intelligence failure that had left Israel unprepared and defenceless in the face of the recent terrorist incursions. She pointed out, however, that the issue might not have been a lack of intelligence but too much and a failure to understand the significance of what was coming in. However good the intelligence, it still requires judgements to be made.

We live in a data rich environment and the demand for more can only grow, including from within policing. But none of this information interprets itself. The interpretation of information is a skill and what happened in Israel may be making the same point.

Powered up

One of the sources of information the police rely on is the Neighbourhood Police Team (NPT). A key member of those teams is the Police Community Support Officer (PCSO). During the years of austerity, though, the number of PCSOs fell. But so did the numbers of warranted police officers.

During the years of austerity, the NPTs were, in effect, abandoned as a way of saving money. All warranted officers were absorbed into response teams that had no particular territorial responsibilities. The public began to sense this across South Yorkshire and those who saw it happening realised it was weakening the link between the police and the community, and as a result, impacting on what intelligence the force was getting directly from neighbourhoods.

Only the PCSOs remained, because they were always territorial. This is why they became the familiar face of the police in so many parts of the county – and so valued as a result. But with fewer of them, their ‘neighbourhoods’ became ever more stretched.

I have always supported the PCSOs and so I was very pleased when it was decided to stabilise numbers and instigate a PCSO Apprenticeship scheme in South Yorkshire and to recruit and train a new cohort. Twelve men and women began an 18-month training course in April and last week they reached the point where they could be granted their PCSO powers and leave the training school (Robert Dyson House) to go out into NPTs for 3 months of further on-the-job training. If all goes well, they will become substantive PCSOs in July 2024.

It was a pleasure and a privilege, therefore, to meet the current cohort and to present them with their Certificate of Designation, their collar numbers and epaulettes. They will be going out into each of the four districts – Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

They were an interesting group of people with previous experience of many different kinds. I think we are fortunate to have them and the training course has been very carefully crafted to ensure that they have the knowledge, the skills and the understanding they need to do a good job.

So if you see any shiny-looking PCSOs in your neighbourhood over the next few months, do stop and talk to them. We all agreed that their role crucially depends on the quality of the relationships they can form with the members of the public they meet in their area.

Stay safe