PCC Blog 40

There was a time, some years ago now, when domestic abuse (DA) was hardly taken seriously.

The authorities, including the police, were reluctant to get involved. ‘It’s only a domestic.’ Not anymore. So much so that some forces found over Christmas that DA accounted for more than half of all crime.

All abuse starts with the attempt by someone – usually a male – to control others in the household. We tend to think that must involve some form of physical force or violence, but psychological and emotional manipulation can be just as powerful as a means of control. The police in each of our district commands – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield – have teams of officers who are specially trained in understanding and dealing with DA and all front-line officers are being given training as well. (This in itself can be quite harrowing.)

Our attention is, rightly, focused on the victims. But who are the victims? We need to think more widely.

Officers who answer calls for help realise very well that in many households there are children. They may not always be the direct recipients of abusive behaviour, but they witness what is happening. They hear the shouting and see their mother crying.

In South Yorkshire we have an important partnership between police and education called Encompass. This allows the police, when they have attended an incident of DA where children have been present, to inform the school before the start of the next school day. Teachers can then look out for the children and give them any support they may need, both that day and subsequently.

This has gradually been rolled out across the county and as I write this, all schools and colleges in Rotherham and Sheffield are part of the scheme, most schools in Doncaster are, and Barnsley should be in place by Easter.

I think this is a brilliantly simple way of making an early intervention to safeguard as far as possible vulnerable children. What distresses me is the scale of the issue. In 2020, the number of children who were referred through Encompass were: Sheffield 398, Doncaster 388 and Rotherham 186.

My Police and Crime Plan has ‘Protecting vulnerable people’ as one of the three priorities for South Yorkshire police. I think Encompass is one way in which the police meet that priority.

Who else are the victims?

The primary victims of DA are the women and their children. But there are secondary victims and they include the police.

I was told recently about one incident to which officers had been called. They found the abuser, weapon in hand, shouting and swearing, threatening to harm his partner and the officers, with terrified, traumatised children seeing and hearing everything.

I won’t dwell on the details, but simply invite you to picture this rapidly developing and utterly terrifying scene and the effect it would have on everyone there – the partner and children, of course, but also the officers. They had to make immediate judgements about what to do next to safeguard partner and children – and themselves – realising that the wrong call might have catastrophic consequences. What they can never do, of course, is walk away. And at the end of the shift they go home to their own partner and children and try not to let the feelings stirred by all this impact in a negative way on their own peace of mind and family life.

When I read about incidents of domestic violence in South Yorkshire, I think of the primary victims, the women and children; but I also think of the officers who had to attend and the impact this has on their welfare.

Budget and precept

I am just putting the final touches to the police budget for the year beginning 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022. It will give us extra police officers and complete the task of restoring neighbourhood teams. If we are to get on top of crime and anti-social behaviour this is an essential building block. It will require some increase in the precept (council tax) but so far, in the surveys we have conducted, this has been accepted by 80% of those taking part, with 67% supporting the higher level – around 20 pence per week on a Band A property – about the cost of a first class stamp. (Properties in South Yorkshire by Band are approximately: A 58%, B 17%, C 12%, D 7%, E 4%, F 2%, G and H, fewer than 1%.)

Even so, I have to ask the force to make substantial savings and we will have to use some reserves.

But we need to keep the momentum going whereby a force that was performing well below par five years ago and found by HM Inspectors to ‘require improvement’, is now rated by them as ‘good’ and is in the top four for force performance. We cannot afford to slip back now.

Channel 4 documentary: 999 What’s Your Emergency?

I hope you have been able to watch one of these documentaries featuring South Yorkshire Police. I saw the first which was screened on Monday 11 January. It featured police staff in Atlas Court, the call handing centre, and response officers in the Doncaster district.

The programme gave real insights into what staff and officers have to deal with day by day, much of which might come as a revelation to many members of the public – a scared child out in town late at night, a man with a serious mental health issue threatening his neighbour, and a young woman, the victim of domestic abuse, whose husband had been released that day from prison and had begun to contact her despite a restraining order.

The calibre of staff and officer alike was revealed, and gave real reassurance. Here were people who showed empathy and insight into what the various callers and victims of crime were facing and feeling. They could reassure and encourage. “Our job is to help her and keep her safe.” And they were all extremely thoughtful about what one of them called this age of fear.

I hope you are staying safe and well.