PCC Blog 180

The Police Public Bravery Awards is an annual event, supported by all United Kingdom police forces and sponsored by the Goldsmiths’ Company, one of the twelve London Livery Companies.

It brings together some exceptional members of the public who have gone to the help of others, including police officers, in order to prevent them, as far as they can, from coming to harm.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings stands with chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens QPMIt is a very prestigious occasion with brave and courageous people coming from each part of the Union – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – together with a senior police officer, usually the chief constable, to receive an award from the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Chief Constable Gavin Stephens QPM, in recognition of their actions.

South Yorkshire police host the event with the force band providing the music. I attended the 2023 occasion last week in the magnificent setting of the Cutlers’ Hall.

Each police force puts forward names of people and a national committee take decisions, awarding certificates, silver and gold medals. The medal winners come to the event – a dinner – to receive them. As the Chief Constable said in her introduction, it was both moving and humbling to hear the stories.

Taking two at random.

Raja, from London, received a gold medal.

At the end of concert in the O2 Arena, a group of men from the 17,000 audience had jumped on a marked police car parked outside the main entrance. A crowd gathered and were egging them on.

The vehicle’s windows were smashed, number plates, wing mirrors and hub caps ripped off, and the panels and roof dented. A police officer detained a man who was trying to get into the car. She was immediately set upon by the group of men who punched her in the face and head as they tried to release the offender. All the while, the crowd was chanting and urging the men on.

Raja saw what was happening and intervened, stepping between the officer and the crowd and acting as a human shield. He was assaulted multiple times as well as having to endure verbal abuse. Despite all of this, he stayed with the officer until other police and security arrived.

If the man had gained entry into the police vehicle, there is every chance it would have been set alight. As it was parked beneath the Arena roof, there is no telling what damage and danger might have ensued.

Raja was given the medal for the brave and selfless way he had protected a police officer from further and probably serious injury. The man detained by the officer was subsequently found guilty of assault on an emergency worker and two counts of criminal damage.

Joe also received a gold medal.

He was returning to his car in Northampton when he saw a couple arguing in the street. The man was grabbing the woman by her wrist. Joe called out to the woman to ask if she was alright. She said she was; but he decided to keep watching anyway to ensure her safety.

Suddenly the man drew a large knife from his backpack and began to stab the woman, knocking her to the ground as he did so. Joe rushed across, kicking the man off the woman, who was able to escape and get to hospital for medical treatment. The man with the knife slashed Joe’s arm before making off.

The woman was stabbed seven times in the clavicle, shoulder and upper arm.

The man was found guilty of the attempted murder of the woman and the grievous bodily harm of Joe. He was sentenced to a total of 20 years for these crimes and for possessing a bladed article.

Some sixty five medals in all were awarded. As the evening came to an end I reflected on what we had heard and seen – not just the individual stories of these exceptional men and women, their bravery and courage, but also what it was telling us about the country we live in. Two things stood out.

First, we hear a lot about crime and selfish acts of theft and thuggery. But here were people who went to the help of others with little thought of their own safety. They did not pass by on the other side. These stories are uplifting.

And second, while the chief officers who stood alongside those receiving awards were uniformly (!) white, the recipients seem to have come from every ethnic group that we now find in our society today. We may be more united round certain basic values than we sometimes think.

No crisis at Christmas here

From time to time people write to me about the homeless.

Why don’t the police do something? I am never quite sure what the ‘something’ is that the police are supposed to do, but whatever it is, it is unlikely to solve the problem permanently.

In many ways we know what the answer to homelessness is.  Far from being a ‘lifestyle choice’, those who have no roof over their heads are generally people who through a series of misfortunes in life, some of their own making, but many not, find themselves without a home, without a job, without friends or supportive family – and probably with an alcohol or drug problem as well. Where do you even start to help someone in that position?

One answer is Emmaus – not the place but the organisation. Emmaus is a charity whose stated aim is to support people to ‘work their way out of homelessness’ so that homelessness can be ended altogether. Last week I went to the Emmaus project in Sheffield. It’s in an old cutlery factory beside the canal, not far from the Quays and the city centre.

When you go inside the building – and the public are welcome to drop in – there is a cafe, a shop selling wooden items made by the companions (as Emmaus calls them) as well as books and bric a brac, a furniture store selling refurbished tables and chairs and beds, and workshops. It’s like a vast Aladdin’s cave.

At any one time there are up to 16 people living on the project. Some have been literally on the streets, while others have been sofa surfing. They are given a small bed sit with a shared kitchen and have work provided through the various activities of the project. When I was there, some companions were out in the van collecting unwanted furniture, others were repairing items or selling them in the shop; some were working in the kitchen or on lathes in the woodwork shop, and so on. Everyone was doing something productive and useful.

Emmaus is a practical answer to the problem of homelessness. It provides a stable home for as long as someone may need it – which can be anything between one or two years, on average. It gives training. It gives support. It provides companionship. And those who take part have to be drug and alcohol free, something that is strictly enforced.

This was a return visit for me. I dropped into Emmaus some years ago when I was first Police and Crime Commissioner. Last week I was there to see how they were getting on with a £10,000 grant we had given and to assure them of our continuing support. I was anxious to know that they had managed to survive the pandemic – which they had.

We calculated that in the time I had known them, the project has helped as many as 600 people, mainly men, to find a way out of homelessness.

As I came away, I thought about the number of charities and initiatives that do something for the homeless, not least at Christmas; but there are few which offer the potential of a permanent way forward. If we had more Emmaus projects – they are found in a number of towns across the country- perhaps I would have fewer calls asking why the police weren’t doing something about those wrapped in duvets in shop doorways on cold winter nights.

Maya Angelou wrote…

“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way s/he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

Stay safe