Managing expectations around police numbers is going to be difficult in 2021.
There are two reasons for this: one is about the numbers and the other is about how they are paid for.
The government has said that it wants to see 20,000 more police officers. I welcome this, though we should not forget that this is not so much an increase as a restoration of what has been lost. This is approximately the number of officers that were cut from the police service year on year from 2010. Yet over this ten year period the population has grown and crime has changed. The years when the force was being cut saw the growth of organised criminal gangs, especially those involved in drugs, and a rise in violent crime. It also saw the exponential growth of cybercrime. We need the 20,000 to make up for what has been lost but we also need additional officers to combat the new threats.
Fortunately, two years ago, the Chief Constable and I decided to stem the fall in numbers in South Yorkshire and use local resources (council tax) to increase numbers – before the 20,000 commitment. That plan is well-advanced, part of the base budget, and we will have an additional 220 in place by 2023/24.
Politicians and the media speak about these 20,000 officers as if they are all going into neighbourhoods – often short-handed as ‘bobbies on the beat’. But this is not possible because numbers were cut in many areas of police activity, not just in neighbourhood policing. Moreover, the government itself has directed where some of the officers will go. This year, we have been told to send seven of the 151 out of South Yorkshire to the Regional Organised Crime Unit.
And then the funding. The impression is given that these new posts are fully funded by government grant. This is not true. There is some additional grant, but money will also have to come from council tax. To that end, Police and Crime Commissioners are being ‘allowed’ to raise tax this year by £15pa on a Band D property.)My survey to gather your opinions on this is still live – visit here to take the survey before 5pm on 15 January: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/VVL6BP8
So, we need to manage expectations – without sounding grudging and churlish! 20,000 is about restoring police numbers to where they were in 2010. Whatever our final quota turns out to be (and we have not been told) not all officers will go into neighbourhood teams because not all those lost were from neighbourhood teams. And we will have to pay towards the extra numbers – or we won’t get them.
In the eye of the storm
We begin the New Year in the eye of the perfect storm.
A new, more infectious variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly across the country, the NHS is in danger of being overwhelmed, the new vaccines are a long way yet from getting us to the point of ‘herd immunity’, where 90% or more of the population is immune, and we are in lockdown again.
Ministers have drawn up a priority order for the vaccine and it is right that those most at risk are vaccinated first. But where should the police figure in this order?
My own view is that we need those in the front line to be protected as soon as possible. I have said this publicly and police and crime commissioners have said it collectively to ministers.
Front line officers come into contact with the public on a daily basis. Where there is a domestic incident, for example, they may have to enter a house where there may be children as well as adults. When someone is arrested and taken to a custody suite, they and the custody officers, will be in close contact while processes are gone through. Officers are sometimes sent out of area to help other forces – mutual aid – places where the virus may be more virulent. In these and many other instances officers run the risk of contracting the virus and passing it to their colleagues and families and members of the public.
It is not in the public interest to have a police force that is seriously debilitated by illness. We rely on the police not only to maintain law and order but also to be there when emergencies of all kinds arise – and we cannot predict what or when that may be. We need a force that is immune from coronavirus.
QPM for DCC
Many congratulations to the Deputy Chief Constable, Mark Roberts, who was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in the New Year honours list. Mark came here when SYP was rated by the inspectors as ‘requires improvement’ and with the Chief Constable has brought the force to where it is now – rated as ‘good’ overall and ‘outstanding’ for ethical leadership. So very well deserved – and we now have both a Chief and a Deputy with QPMs.
Re-calibrating for 2021
The coronavirus has affected everything, including how criminals have been operating and what the force has to do to meet the different challenges. This in turn has meant that I will be re-calibrating where my own holding to account arrangements will focus between now and the PCC election in May. I will give one example – cybercrime.
We know that lock-downs are likely to accelerate the growth of crime on line, not only fraud but also the exploitation of children. The reasons for this are not hard to see. The closures and the restrictions on movement have led to more viewing of the internet by adults and children alike and this has given the digitally aware criminals their opportunities. But these are issues that cross boundaries and borders, so it is essential that whatever we do locally, we need to know that robust measures are in place both regionally and nationally. We are, in fact, part of a North East seven force cyber collaboration – South, West and North Yorkshire, Humberside, Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria. We also need to know that the force is doing everything it can to support individuals and businesses in protecting themselves from the internet criminals.
As far as fraud goes, I have been to too many breakfast meetings where business leaders have admitted to being ignorant about their own company’s cyber security arrangements, or have confessed that they have not reviewed them for years. I have been to too many presentations at the Lifewise centre where victims of fraud have told their stories – and we have all winced as we realised that there but for the grace of God any one of us might have gone.
So increasing our cyber awareness has to be part of the re-calibration for 2021.
I hope you are staying safe and well.