PCC Blog 187

In March 2021, a serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, kidnapped a young woman, Sarah Everard, on a London street, and subsequently raped and murdered her.

After Couzens had been arrested, it came to light that he had worked for forces other than the Met and his behaviour there had caused some concern. Yet he had been able to move between forces without any of these concerns being followed up. Similarly, after the serial rapist and police officer David Carrick had finally been apprehended for his crimes, it was found that his conduct had also been called into question over a number of years but nothing had been done about it.

These high profile cases and others, caused a national outcry and in January 2023 both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister called on the police to take steps to ensure that no one else was currently working for the police who should not be. The National Police Chiefs’ Council began a search of all workforce records and last week the results of this  ‘historic data wash’ of everything on the Police National Database was made public. The records of all officers, staff and volunteers were screened.

This has been a huge undertaking. It has involved forty two forces in England and Wales plus six other forces such as Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. (North Yorkshire was not included because it has been doing this on a monthly basis for sometime – Operation Prism.)There have been 307,452 checks. This is the biggest exercise of its kind ever undertaken in this country and quite possibly any country. The data searched is the information held before February 2023 – there has to be a cut off point. The findings – national but also local – were published last week.

Nationally, 306,991 of the searches caused no concern. But 461 were scrutinised further. Of these, no further action was required in 97 cases. Of the remainder, 88 have led to disciplinary investigation, 128 management intervention and 139 triggered vetting clearance. But 9 led to further criminal investigation – mainly to do with matters of drugs, sex or fraud. While every instance of a police officer being investigated for a crime is shocking, these are, thankfully, relatively small numbers given the total numbers of police officers, staff and volunteers we have across the United Kingdom.

I am pleased to say that there were no cases in South Yorkshire that needed further action.

After the shocks of the Couzens and Carrick crimes and the lax way they had been able to operate for years without being appropriately challenged and stopped, we can all be re-assured that the police are now in a better place than we might at one time have thought. I am very reassured by the South Yorkshire results.

But this is a snapshot in time. If we are to prevent those who exhibit poor or potentially criminal behaviour going unchallenged in the future, we must find ways of continuing to screen on a regular basis. North Yorkshire police may have something to teach us all.

Onwards and upwards

Perhaps I should ask its next Chief Constable before he leaves us. Tim Forber came as an Assistant Chief Constable in 2016 and was appointed Deputy Chief Constable in 2021. So he has been part of the Senior Command Team that saw South Yorkshire Police make year on year progress (according to HM Inspectors) to become one of the top performing forces in the country. At a recent Public Accountability Board I congratulated him on being appointed Chief Constable just a little further up the M1/A1, and thanked him for his contribution here. He was a strong advocate of neighbourhood teams when decisions had to be made around re-introducing them. The good place SYP now finds itself in owes much to the energy, experience and commitment he brought to the task here. North Yorkshire is fortunate in having him and he will, I am sure, keep NY – as they like to say – ‘the safest place in the country’.

Replacing Tim will be a current Assistant Chief Constable – Sarah Poolman. Sarah came to SYP in 2016 to become the force lead for CSE following the Jay Report. Before that she was at Thames Valley Police and gained a wealth of experience in response, CID, firearms and public protection. Some of you may remember her when she was the District Commander in Barnsley or for her work in child protection.

Looking round the north of England, I see we – SYP – have now sent officers from here to be chief constables in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and now North Yorkshire. This must say something about the quality of senior officers we have here and the depth of their collective experience.

Hate Crime

We have commentated many times before on how people’s perception of crime is often unrelated to the reality of crime. One striking example of that is hate crime.

I am quite sure that if I asked people whether they thought hate crimes – of all kinds – were going up or down or staying about the same, most people would say they were increasing. I have people contacting me all the time saying as much and asking why the police don’t do more about whatever crime they have in mind.

There is often a confusion between a hate incident which is short of a crime and a hate crime. But even when we have sorted out the definitions, there remains this view that hate crimes are rising. There are also distinctions to be made about types of hate incident or crime. Within the broad category of hate crimes, some types may be increasing, and some falling. And, of course, not all hate incidents or crimes are reported to the police and so recorded.

I have recently been looking at the latest figures available. (Though these have yet to be finally checked out – audited is the technical term.)

For the twelve months to December 2023, hate crime volumes are lower than they were the previous year – by as much as 5%. There may even be a downward trend, looking at what happened as the year went on.

Within the figures, racial incidents continue to be dominant across all types of hate incident, and this is something we have noted many times before. We have also noted how tricky it can sometimes be deciding whether someone who is, say, from an ethnic minority who is also a Muslim, is being abused on racial or religious grounds.

But within the falling numbers of hate incidents and crimes altogether in SY, religious hate incidents and crimes have seen an increase. This ought not to surprise us given the number of conflicts and incidents across the world that have a religious dimension to them –  from Gaza to Iran and India. Even so, the numbers are not large.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – which go up to March 2023 – show an overall decrease in hate crimes nationally of 5%. Of these, the majority were racially motivated – 70% of 101,906 offences. Religious hate crime showed a decrease of 4% – from 8602 to 8241. Of these, 44% were targeted at Muslims and 19% at Jewish people. Of course, all these figures are pre the 7 October attacks and the Hamas/Israel war – which will undoubtedly make some difference.

Nevertheless, when the media tell us there has been an ‘epidemic’ of hate crime, it is as well to do a quick check to find out how much is perception and how much is reality.

Stay safe