We seem to be getting more angry as a society.
On the odd occasions when I look at comments posted on social media, people often seethe with rage and even the letter columns in our local newspapers seem to tolerate levels of abuse that I don’t remember in the past.
From police video footage that I see from time to time, road rage is all too common as are attacks on emergency service workers – ambulance, fire service and police – and when police are called to domestic incidents, the anger and levels of violence that is often revealed, both verbal and physical, is shocking.
Meanwhile, on the streets, while fighting often featured in the past when the pubs turned out, we are now seeing levels of anger that seem to result in serious violence far more often – as happened in Birmingham city centre last weekend with fighting and stabbing.
One of the more worrying parts of all this is that many children and young people are being routinely exposed to it and as a result are seeing angry behaviour as ‘normal’, within the home and in the community. As I write this we are just beginning to discover how much anger some children witnessed between the adults in their lives during the long period of lock-down. And we know from research how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – such as seeing violence in the home or being subjected to angry behaviour – have lasting effects.
The conclusion is simple: we need to protect children from anger and to steer others away from it. The solutions are going to be far more difficult.
There are some good practices developing. Before the schools closed, South Yorkshire Police were ensuring that if they attended incidents of domestic abuse where children were present, the school would be informed at the start of the next school day, so that the children could be supported as necessary. I have also funded charities that help perpetrators change their behaviour.
Some of this work can be embedded in normal police practice, but some will be dependent on the relevant parts of the voluntary sector being able to continue their work on a long term basis. But who knows what the future holds for them when so many charities have seen their income collapse these past months.
And perhaps there is a job for us too. Don’t we all need to ensure that our public conversations remain courteous and civil, recognising that living together means we can’t always get everything we want and sometimes compromise is a virtue.
One of our local newspapers reported a criminal trial at the crown court. The defendant was about to be sentenced for being the go-between who enabled a firearm to be passed from one person to another. His barrister, making a plea in mitigation, said of his client, ‘He is a father of five children. He is a very caring man outside of his criminality.’
‘Outside of their criminality’ I expect a lot of offenders are, though why being a criminal was thought to be setting a life-enhancing example to the five children was not made clear.
So this is a portmanteau mitigation that can be hawked from trial to trial and applied to offender after offender, and perhaps is, for all I know. Why anyone would think it would ever carry any weight whatsoever with a judge is beyond fathoming.
The offender got twelve years. The barrister was spared.
A member of the public contacted the office asking them to get me to ‘order’ the police to treat offenders in a certain way. We replied, quite correctly, to say that the PCC could not ‘order’ the police to do something that was ‘operational’. They responded, wondering what the point of the PCC was if it didn’t include ordering the police to do things.
It is quite hard sometimes to get across to the public that the role of the PCC is not to give the police orders but to set priorities, to hold them to account against those priorities and to give support. But as I thought about what the correspondent was saying, I realised that most of what you do as a PCC depends on forging a good relationship with the Chief Constable and his staff. If you have that, then a PCC and a force can make progress in step. Without it, everyone struggles.
I hope you are staying safe and well.