PCC Blog 188

Last week I was asked to speak at a Vigil in the Cutlers’ Hall, organised by Sheffield City Council and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, to mark the annual Holocaust Memorial Day.

The centre piece of the Vigil was a moving talk by Hedi Argent, who came to this country as a ten year old Jewish refugee from Austria just a few weeks before the Second Word War began. She spoke about how in Vienna her family was stripped of everything – jobs, homes, possessions – until finally they either escaped the country, as she did, or stayed and faced an unknown future, which in the end led to most of her family perishing.

Although we may have heard similar stories many times before, it was having Hedi present, speaking simply and conversationally in front of us that brought home the depth of suffering and humiliation that Jewish people endured even before 6 million were forced to the death camps.

But part of her story was about how some people came to the aid of her family. There were non Jews in Austria who gave the family shelter after they were dispossessed – at great risk to themselves. And when she finally arrived in this country, she particularly remembered a porter at  Victoria station who gave her a threepenny bit and wished her well. She held up the coin which she has treasured ever since. I think many of us shed a tear.

The discrimination against her, her family and fellow Jews, began with state-sponsored hatred. I was asked to speak about hate crimes in the present context. I spoke immediately before Hedi and made a general point about how we might be able to reduce hate incidents and crime.

This is part of what I said:

“Hatred is a moral failure; but it starts with a failure of imagination. An inability to put yourself in the shoes of others. To see things from their perspective. To feel what they feel. They then become alien and other. We feel nothing for them. They are nothing to us.

“Those resentments and hatreds diminish our humanity and wreck our communities.

“The opposite is empathy, the ability to make the imaginative leap. To see as others see and feel as others feel. You don’t have to agree with them or like them. But you ‘get’ them.

“Developing the imagination. This is the key preventive work. But how do you do it?

“Interestingly, Judaism seeks to do it – in the annual Passover ceremony. Around the Passover meal, the story of the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land is recounted. The story of what happened, perhaps 3,000 years ago, is retold down the generations, partly so that Jews will not take their freedom for granted; but also because it develops their empathy for others. It’s a reminder of what it was like being poor and oppressed then, in order to empathise with those who are poor and oppressed now.

“‘Don’t pervert the justice due to the foreigner or the fatherless,’ say the scriptures. ‘For you were once a slave in the land of Egypt.’

“If discrimination begins with hatred, a moral failure, and if it is overcome by developing the imagination and the ability to empathise, that is not a police matter but a matter for all of us.

“How do we expand our collective imagination so as to deepen our capacity to empathise. One way is through hearing other people’s stories, as we are doing this evening. We have to do that because we can’t enforce our way to the peaceable society.”

Good news

Last year the Home Office made £2.4m available to us so that we could intensify patrolling in areas blighted by anti-social behaviour (ASB). We had to identify these places and get Home Office agreement – so quite a lot of work. We did this by bringing together both police data and also data from other organisations such as local authorities.

In the end, we focused on 12 hot spots in each of the four districts – Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield. These were a small number of streets in each place which between them had contributed most of the reported ASB. I was always very keen that we included in the hot spots some of the smaller towns – like Dinnington – as well as the bigger conurbations.

It is now six months since these 48 hot spots were identifies and patrolled twice a day. Altogether, the police have patrolled for just over 5,527 additional hours. In addition, in some places, a further 1076 hours have seen some joint patrolling with local authority wardens.

The first results of the exercise have now been analysed and they are looking very promising. ASB has been substantially reduced across all hot spots in all districts. The biggest reductions have been in Sheffield where ASB is down 34%.

There have been other pluses as well.

As the officers have patrolled they have come across crimes being committed or have been alerted to them by local people. As a result, during this time, the patrols have made 47 arrests and conducted 91 stop and searches.

What I find interesting about this is that the Home Office was persuaded to fund these actions because of a theory – the so-called ‘Koper Curve’. (Professor Christopher Koper is a criminology professor at George Mason University and a prominent supporter of ‘evidence based policing’.)

This came out of work by the Minneapolis police department. They realised that as much as 50% of their calls for service were being generated by 5% of places. So they focused their patrols on this very small number of blocks.

They also came to realise that the deterrent effect was achieved not just by being present but by turning up unexpectedly through the day. The patrols had to be regular but random. If they became predictable, their effectiveness was diminished. It was better to patrol for, say, twenty minutes, then return at an unexpected time than to patrol solidly for a couple of hours. It is some of these principles that South Yorkshire police have been borrowing.

What we should also notice is a further benefit of these hot spot patrols. If officers make a determined effort to speak to people as they walk round – residents in the street or businesses along the way – this has the added effect of building confidence in a community.

In many way, this is a return in modern form to what officers did in the past – when there were more of them per head of population.

I hope that as well as noting the effects we were looking for with the increased patrols, the police and local authorities might also think about what other unexpected spin offs there might have been.

Weather vane

One year ago, Catherine Porter, chair of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for Wetherby Young Offender Institution (YOI), published the Board’s annual report. It made for shocking reading. Wetherby is the nearest YOI to us in South Yorkshire – just north of Leeds on the M1 – and the place to which our young people are sent if they have a custodial sentence. The report found high levels of violence and expressed concerns for the safety and welfare of inmates and staff.

This year’s report has just been published. While there have been some improvements, the overall picture remains depressing: 900 improvised weapons were found among the 160 inmates; levels of violence were rising; young people were sometimes locked up for as many as 15 hours each day; drugs and illicit phones were found on the wings; there was dirt and mould; young people said they did not have enough to eat.

Catherine Porter was interviewed on Channel 4 News. She gave one very cogent reason why we should be alarmed and should bother our government to take youth violence more seriously: one day these young people are coming back into the community. They will be in school beside our children. They will be our neighbours.

Wetherby is alerting us to something going badly wrong for some young people. We have to make Wetherby work.

Stay safe