On Monday of last week I was elected for the third time as Police and Crime Commissioner.
Although I stood as the Labour and Co-operative Party candidate, the following day I took an oath, in the magnificent, wooden panelled reception rooms of Barnsley Town Hall, to work for the good of everyone in South Yorkshire, whoever they are, wherever they live, without fear or favour. And that is what I will try to do.
It was a very good election result for me. I was elected on first preference votes – which is not true of every PCC – and by bigger margins than previous elections. This gives me some confidence in thinking that I must have been given credit for getting some decisions right – perhaps the big decisions.
And there are few bigger decisions than appointing a Chief Constable.
Five years ago I asked Stephen Watson to lead South Yorkshire Police. At that time the force was in poor shape: morale was low, there had been poor inspection reports and public confidence in the police had taken a knock following the Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
I remember meeting the Chief informally shortly after the interview in an Italian restaurant in Sheffield. I said I thought there was a mountain to climb. He was very clear: there were many good men and women in the organisation who could be motivated if given a sense of purpose and direction. He promised that SYP would become a good force by the time his contract came to an end – which was this year.
And so it has turned out. He took the force to where it is today: one of the top performing forces in the country.
Last week we said an emotional farewell and thank you to him at police headquarters as he left to undertake a similar task for Greater Manchester Police, where the elected mayor, Andy Burnham, has police responsibilities. We thanked Chief Constable Watson for his time here and wished him well on the other side of the Pennines.
But it does mean that I shall have to make another big decision and appoint a new Chief Constable to take us forward. I didn’t want a big gap with no substantive Chief, so the process is already well under way.
The task now will be no less challenging. But it will be less about rescue and more about maintaining and improving a force now rated as ‘good’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectors, and ‘outstanding’ in terms of its ethical leadership.
By the time I come to write next week’s blog, I hope that appointment will have been made.
One of the first things the new Chief Constable will have to do is make some assessment about what will happen to crime and anti-social behaviour as we come out of the lockdowns.
Last week, the Office for National Statistics published data about crime in 2020. Overall, crime fell in South Yorkshire by 8%. Some crimes fell dramatically – thefts by 25%, burglaries by 24% and robberies by 16%. Even knife crime fell – by 12% – despite the media-fuelled perceptions that it was rising. I have no doubt that the lockdowns were a big factor in these statistics. Burglars, for instance, were a little too obvious out on deserted streets at night and houses were rarely without occupants. Nevertheless, crime fell. But what happens next? Will crime return to ‘normal’ levels and patterns? Or have things changed in the last twelve or so months?
There is almost certainly more online crime now. But how much more and what sort of crime? We can also expect a rise in public order offences as night time economies function again.
We often talk about ‘lessons learnt’. We certainly want a police force that learns lessons. But we need more than that because a totally ‘lessons learnt’ approach would tend to keep us rooted in past behaviours – as if what had happened in the past was going to happen again. But the past does not repeat itself exactly and sometimes not at all. So we need a police force that not only learns from the past but also one that thinks ahead and figures out how things are changing. We want dynamic policing because life is dynamic. Society is not a kind of Madame Tussauds with moving parts.
So I look forward to the next three years and will try to write a blog from time to time which will give some insight into my own thinking and describe aspects of policing or criminal justice in our locality that are not necessarily picked up elsewhere.
In the past, many of you have emailed with comments of your own after reading the blog. I very much hope you will want to do so in future.
In the meantime, as we start to come out of our restricted lives, stay safe and well.