Criminals, we know, are very adaptable.
So during the lock-downs and various restrictions, we saw some changes in patterns of crime. Some crime fell, some increased. Some of this was predictable, some less so. But what I think no one foresaw was a rise in dog-napping!
Last year, many people, forced to work from home, began to acquire a dog to keep them company around the house and on their daily walk. Two or three people in my office seem to have become dog-walkers, judging by the occasional give away bark we hear from under the kitchen table or the wagging tail we see on our video calls. (I quite see now why the poet, John Keats, called his dog Wagtail.) Criminals saw an opportunity as the demand for dogs rose. The price of some pups – according to Pets4Homes – is currently as high as £3,000. (You may need to look at your hound in a new light.) Of course, the emotional cost of losing a dog is another matter entirely.
Stealing a puppy suddenly became an attractive criminal proposition. One of the country’s largest lost and found services for canines has estimated that thefts have increased by 250%. I don’t know what they base that on; it is not reflected in South Yorkshire to that extent. But we can see how, for some thieves, a small dog might be as tempting to seize as an unguarded laptop. It’s easy money.
Meanwhile the Home Secretary is reviewing the (now lucrative) issue of pet theft. What penalties are likely to deter the pet pinchers and what does realistic enforcement look like. I can just remember when you had to have a licence for a dog. It cost 37p and the money went to local authorities. But it was widely ignored and cost more to administer and collect than it raised. It was done away with in the 1980s. So what might be effective?
If you have any views about this, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners is conducting a national survey to try to capture them. It takes about one minute to complete and can be found on the link below.
The survey closes on 12 March, and, of course, when we hear about the results we’ll bring a pupdate.
Do we need a National Youth Service?
As well as the disastrous cuts to police numbers over the past ten years, we also saw youth services decimated as well. These were ‘easy’ cuts to make because youth provision is not a statutory service like social care and schools, so cuts could be made – and, of course, the main beneficiaries are too young to protest through the ballot box!
But it has turned out to be another false economy, like cuts to police numbers, and, in its way, just as deadly.
Not all young people want activities provided for them after school or at weekends. Many have little difficulty finding hobbies and planning their social life and leisure time. Many have supportive parents who ferry them to football and boxing clubs, athletics or choirs. But others don’t. I have made many evening visits to various small towns and former pit villages across South Yorkshire and seen little groups of young people congregating at bus stops or on street corners with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
And what we have learnt over these years is that when the youth workers, youth centres, boxing and football clubs disappear, there are people watching and waiting – the criminal gangs.
Organised gangs practice a form of grooming for criminal purposes – exactly as other gangs practised grooming for sexual purposes. The grooming begins with befriending those who in the past might well have found their way to the youth centre or might have been spotted by a youth worker as vulnerable. And what starts as befriending gradually becomes something more sinister as they are drawn into the gang’s criminal activities with the chance of easy money.
We are heading for a time when the economic prospects for some young people and their families will be bleak. This is just the moment when we need statutory youth provision, properly resourced – a National Youth Service – with local authorities and the voluntary sector all playing their part. I would rather have conversations with the police about how they can contribute to this than about how they tackle the growing criminalisation of children and young people.
If I were to look through the emails I receive from the public to see the word that came up most often, it might well be ‘quads’.
For as long as I have been PCC there have been complaints about nuisance quad bikes, but in the last year or two they have risen exponentially. It is an issue across the country as well as in South Yorkshire, and in both rural and urban areas. In the countryside, I hear from farmers who tell me about the destruction of crops, the breaking of fences and the pursuit of animals. In urban areas, I have reports of people driving furiously and recklessly along pavements, creating anxiety and noise as they go. But catching people who suddenly appear and take off across fields is not easy.
So how has the force responded?
Imaginatively, I think we could say. In April 2020, they established a central full-time, off road bike team of six full-time riders. They are supported by a further 15 officers in the districts who can assist as and when needed. Their weekly operations are based on intelligence and demand and the plans are circulated to the districts.
This is a summary of some of their activities between April 2020 and February this year.
Number of deployments 313
Offenders reported on summons 60
Warning notices issued 256
Bikes seized for anti-social use 27
Seized for no driving licence/insurance 114
Value of bikes seized £177,000
Stolen bikes recovered 88
Value of stolen bikes recovered £181,000
Arrests made 19
Of course, the police bikers cannot be everywhere and calls on them exceed their capacity to respond to every request. But as the table shows, they are making a difference and this year they hope to increase the number of trained district based riders from 15 to 21.
And finally …
From time to time I have asked officers which fictional television series about the police they find most convincing. They generally start off by saying ‘None’, but when pressed offer an opinion. I realised as I thought about it that there was a majority point of view. I wonder whether you can guess which TV series most went for? Answer next week!
I hope you are staying safe and well.