I asked a new recruit why they had chosen to join South Yorkshire Police (SYP) rather than their home force – Lincolnshire. They said SYP gave them more interesting career prospects because it was both a rural and an urban force.
That is very true. However, it means that the police here have to be prepared for different types of crime in different parts of the county as a result.
Last week, for instance, a farmer wrote to me about an issue that he and many of his fellow farmers are having to put up with constantly – the menace of quad bikes. This is not new, but it seems to be getting worse. And, as he said, ‘… it is having a devastating effect on our livelihood’.
Although he wrote in a very measured and reasonable way, you could feel the despair in every line. A small number of people with quad bikes are wreaking havoc across our countryside. On a regular basis, crops are destroyed, fences and gates damaged and time and energy has to go into trying to block and then unblock gateways in an effort to keep the bikes out and carry on farming.
There is also an environmental aspect. Wildlife, such as hedgehogs and English partridge, simply disappear from those areas set aside to encourage native species. Roe deer and hare have been harassed and one deer had her twin fawns chased onto the A19 where they perished.
The farmer acknowledged the work of the police bike team, but knows they have to operate over the whole county, and other resources are stretched. But he did suggest a possible way forward – a system of licensing. Quad bikes could be licensed, as we licence shotguns and as some drones are now managed. This is a longer term solution but I believe it has merit and I will take it further through the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. We have to find a way of stopping this devastation before harassed farmers are forced to give up. We cannot have a small group of people holding farmers to ransom in this way.
In the meantime we must try to do more for the farming community in 2021.
We have four prisons in South Yorkshire, all in Doncaster.
Although prisoners come from all across the country, some are from South Yorkshire and sooner or later are released back into our communities. We all have an interest, therefore, in ensuring as much as possible that these men – there is a woman’s prison in Wakefield – do not re-offend. This requires the prison service to work with them before they come out and the probation service – soon to become one service again for prisoners of all types – to help make the transition as smooth as possible. And the police will be involved with the management of offenders once they are back.
There are some basic needs that must be met, principally around having somewhere to live and some financial support, and – more difficult – work to do. But many men have on-going issues with drugs or alcohol, and support is needed with that as well.
Some years ago I helped with a charity that supported ex-offenders. Volunteers helped these particular offenders not to deny what they had done – accountability – but also to support them as they made the difficult transition from a life where every minutes of the day was regulated, meals were provided and finance was not a worry, to one where you had to fend for yourself.
There is, therefore, a lot of focus on the offender and what his needs might be.
But last week I was part of a discussion between the four PCCs in Yorkshire and the Humber together with some of those responsible for our prisons and the prison service. What struck me about the conversation was that while we spent a lot of time talking about the needs of offenders on release, we had little or nothing to say about one crucial group who must have a key role in their rehabilitation – the partners and families to whom many will return.
One of the lessons I learnt from the child sexual abuse crisis in Rotherham was that those impacted by these crimes were not just the immediate victims but their families and the families of the abusers, including their children. Families where men come back from prison may likewise struggle. If the men have continuing problems with drugs or alcohol, the families need to be able to recognise the signs and know who to contact for help. But I am not sure how much support and advice is available specifically for them.
Helping ex-offenders is never a popular cause. People sometimes write to me to say they begrudge every penny spent on them. Yet if we are to reduce re-offending we need to think seriously about how practically we can make a difference, and helping the families may be one way.
On or two people were in touch with me following last week’s comment on leadership. Everything you said was interesting but these words in particular I thought summed the matter up really well. They were from someone who has held senior leadership positions in the NHS. They wrote: “I always said to staff that leadership was about doing the right things and management was about making sure the right things were done. I also used to say leadership was a leasehold and not a freehold i.e. it was for a finite period of time.”
I hope you are staying safe and well.