PCC Blog 194: The Commissioner’s final blog

This is the last blog I shall write as Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

I am standing down when my term ends in May. But in any case, there will be no more PCCs here, since the functions of the PCC will transition to whoever is elected mayor of South Yorkshire on 2 May. In addition, because of the election, we are about to enter a pre-election period called purdah when politicians cannot write blogs or make announcements that could be construed as using our position to favour one of the candidates. A combination of term end and purdah means this is the last time I shall be writing.

I started to write a blog when Covid locked us all down and I could not get out and about meeting people in the way I had done previously. It was a way of keeping in touch. Now, 194 blogs and 261, 900 words later (the equivalent of three or four paperbacks) it is time for me to stop and find my way into life’s long grass.

Down the years, numbers of you have responded to the blogs, sometimes supporting, sometimes disagreeing with what I wrote – and occasionally correcting my grammar (former teachers!). I was puzzled that responses came from different parts of the country and even from abroad, until I realised that the Yorkshire Post often reproduced them. Thank you for those emails and letters.

The blogs served two main purposes: to tell you in a more informal way about some of the people and places I had been to in the preceding week; and to share with you my thinking on topical issues in policing and criminal justice. This was a way of showing something of the work of the PCC, most of which is hidden.

What has changed?

Some journalists and broadcasters have been asking me about what I have achieved in the nine years I have been in this position. I think that is the wrong way of framing the question. There is very little that I do alone or directly. There are always many people involved in change and improvement of public services and I am rarely if ever the principal decision maker. So I am mindful of that in what I write below.

The most satisfactory change has been the improvement of South Yorkshire Police (SYP). In 2016 they were rated by HM Inspectors as ‘requiring improvement’. In the latest inspection they were graded as ‘outstanding’ in three categories, ‘good’ in five and ‘adequate’ in one. This makes them one of the top performing forces in the country. This matters. It gives us, the public, confidence in our force, it supports police morale, and it means that people want to join: recruitment is not a problem here as it is for some.

The main direct contribution a PCC can make to this is to ensure that the right person is appointed as Chief Constable – I have appointed two in my time – and to develop ways of holding the force to account which are supportive but also challenging. There have been times when we have had to ask difficult questions, times when we have had to give encouragement.


A second area is without question the treatment of victims. When I became PCC, in the wake of the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, I had a visit from the father of a young woman who had been groomed and sexually abused – and ignored by the police. I knew little or nothing about CSE. We agreed to set up a Victims, Survivors and their Families Panel, to advise me and, ultimately, to advise the police.

They taught me and, I believe, the police, the importance of listening to victims of crimes and not assuming you know everything or there is nothing new to know. I now see the fruit of that in the way the police approach all their work, from domestic abuse to anti-social behaviour. They don’t always get it right, but we are in a different world from 2016. In some areas, such as CSE, SYP is one of the leading forces in the country.

Having said that, I think this is an area that needs constant scrutiny because, as we know, all organisations have a tendency in some situations to put their own reputation ahead of the needs of victims – think of the sub-postmasters and the unwillingness of all police forces to use the term ‘institutional’ when considering issues of organisational culture.

The way people with power fail to hear those without power was an early lesson I taught my children – by reading them a children’s story called The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide (1971). Treehorn is a young boy who begins to shrink. He can’t reach shelves, his clothes aren’t fitting and at dinner his head disappears below the table.

At first, his parents don’t notice and don’t hear his concerns. He knows he is shrinking, but they let themselves be distracted by other pressing matters. Then, when they can no longer ignore the fact that he is getting smaller, they worry about their reputation: what will people think? Then they blame the victim: why is he doing this? Does he just want to be different? (I recommend the book to all parents and grandparents who read stories to their children.)

When Bishop James Jones wrote his report on the Hillsborough disaster and the police response, he called it The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power. Just so. This is always likely to be the default position of bodies with power – unless they have strong values with robust holding to account mechanisms – PCCs, whistleblowing, complaints procedures, vigilant members of the public, the media.


This takes me to a third area where results have been decidedly more mixed: relationships with the media. People need to have trust and confidence in the police and criminal justice system. We need the media if we are to help the public understand both the good work that is being done but also the constraints and obstacles. But in the almost ten years I have been PCC, I have seen a withering of the human resources in both the print and broadcast media. It is increasingly rare to find anyone now who specialises in criminal justice, especially the statistics of crime, and so, with a few honourable exceptions, reporters can sometimes get the wrong end of the stick or cause unnecessary anxieties.

My heart sinks, for example, when I am asked to comment on ‘knife crime’ statistics. I am shown police recorded figures. I try to explain that if there is a lot of police activity – if they are pro-actively searching for those with weapons in order to prevent crimes, as the Armed Crime Team do – this will result in more recorded knife crime as they seize weapons and make arrests. That is not more stabbing but more prevention of stabbing. But the temptation for the reporter or broadcaster is to say ‘Knife Crime Epidemic’ – and scare us all. ‘SYP prevent knife crime’ is not an appealing headline. SYP has been commended for accurate crime recording. My regret looking back is that we have not done more to help the media – and so the public – make sense of all this data. We need the data and have never had so much; but data does not interpret itself. ‘Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’ T.S.Eliot wrote in the Rock as long ago as 1934. We are slow learners.


But let me end on a note of optimism. One of the last things I have done is to speak to a group of new recruits at their attestation ceremony. This is when they take an oath before a magistrate and receive their warrant cards.

There were 56 recruits, men and women, at Robert Dyson House, the police training centre at Wath-upon-Dearne. The average age was probably somewhere in the early twenties. I knew one whom I had met a couple of years or so ago when he was still at school. They looked, therefore, very young. Very young. They had walked into the room as ordinary citizens. They walked out as police constables with all the powers and responsibilities of a police officer, determined to do a good job.

Hearing them repeat the oath with such conviction was also encouraging. They not only swore to keep the King’s peace and prevent crime, but also to uphold human rights and accord equal respect to all people. This is what these young officers committed to and it is against these high standards that I have sought to hold South Yorkshire Police to account during my three terms of office. Now it is up to the Mayor.

So for the last time: keep safe.