Each year I consult the public on policing and crime matters.
I then take this into account as I set out the priorities for the police in the Police and Crime Plan, determine the budget – with the Chief Constable – and decide the precept (council tax) for the year starting in April 2021.
This would normally involve me and my two engagement officers meeting people face-to-face at community, town and parish meetings, in market places and shopping centres, as well as conducting an on-line survey. This year, however, we have mainly had to content ourselves with the survey, and this is just concluding. Almost 2,000 people have responded. While this is not as scientific as it might be, it gives us something to go on. As well as ticking boxes many people also gave us comments – and they are just as useful.
It will take a few days to analyse what we have, but a preliminary glance has already flagged up one issue on which the public feel very strongly. But it gives us a bit of a headache to know how to respond.
People want more ‘visible policing’. When they expand on that it is clear that they want to see more uniformed officers in their communities. But they don’t want them in cars. They want them walking about. This gives reassurance. People say they will feel safer – which is important.
In one way it would be easy to give people what they ask for – literally more officers pounding the pavements. And, of course, with the return two years ago of neighbourhood teams, that has to some extent happened. There are more uniformed officers out and about now than there were just a few years ago and not just driving through in cars. And next year there will be more.
But do people notice these changes? In another part of the survey people were asked whether they thought the level of policing had increased. Only 8% said it had. Yet 34% thought it had decreased, while 32% thought it was the same and 26% said they didn’t know. So whether some extra officers on the streets will be noticed is hard to tell. Perhaps perception is as important as reality.
In any case, it is not an easy choice for the Chief Constable to make. He will know that while additional officers spending time on the streets may give re-assurance, it may not be the best way of defeating crime and criminals. He will also need response officers in cars who can go to an incident quickly. He will need unseen resources – analysts who see where the crime hot spots are and the emerging patterns, detectives and forensic investigators, people who prepare the evidence for trials, and so on. Without this, criminals will not be put away and crime will not fall; and rising crime will soon result in public losing confidence in the police.
So there is the perennial dilemma: people want more police visibility and they want crime to fall. In the public mind the latter follows from the former. If only it were that simple.
Restorative Justice Week
Restorative Justice brings together a victim of a crime and the offender. It is not an alternative to the justice system. Offenders will still have to face justice. But it is a way of helping some victims of crime feel less uneasy about what has happened to them, and a way of helping some offenders find a way back from their criminal behaviour by coming to see the impact their crime has on their victim.
So, for example, I was present some years ago when an offender, who had been writing to his victim from prison, came to meet the woman whose car he had stolen and crashed. She was a single mother with a disabled daughter. She told him what the loss of the car had done to her and her daughter. She could not get to work. She could not take her daughter to special school. The offender was visibly moved.
Then, with much encouragement from the woman, he told his story – an absent father, an addicted mother, poor schooling and little prospects. The woman was equally moved.
RJ can help victims get answers to questions that disturb them: why did he pick on me? It makes the offender face the truth about the impact their crime has had upon a victim by hearing about it direct from the victim and in the victim’s own words. And it is available for victims of any kind of crime.
RJ does not work miracles. It is not for everyone. It does not always have the outcome we might want. But it does lead some to break with their offending behaviour and it does help some victims to feel they have established a measure of control over their lives again.
I fund the RJ service in South Yorkshire, managed for us by a charity called Remedi. Each day this week they are giving me short presentations of their work in a series of video presentations. I will report back.
Whatever next …
I was sent a letter last week by a university business school. It was a wonderful example of how to fail in your marketing.
The letter began: ‘Dear Ms Billings…’ It then went on to say: ‘Have you ever considered taking your career as Police and Crime Commissioner to the next level?’
I can’t say I have.
I hope you are staying safe and well.