PCC Blog 53

Last week I was out and about in Barnsley District.

On Tuesday I met a group of young people in Locke Park. They had been brought together by Adele Saywell and Jen Harris, Youth Voice and Participation Co-ordinators from Barnsley District Council, together with two Police Community Support Officers, Lee Rogers and Sean Cassidy. It was a warm day and we stood in a socially distanced circle to talk about crime and anti-social behaviour from the young person’s perspective.

I was struck by how reflective and articulate the young people were. We ranged over many topics but three in particular were discussed with some vigour.

One spoke of the way adults often misperceive young people. She talked about a shelter in a park in Penistone that young people use as a place to meet – and there was a similar issue in Lundwood. Some adults think they must be up to no good and want the shelter removed. ‘Young people aren’t always out to cause trouble,’ she said and wondered how we could break the ‘cycle of mistrust, anger and fear’ that often seems to trouble some older people when they see groups of young people in public spaces.

Another spoke about the increase in mental health issues during lock-downs. He felt that academies were under pressure to place more emphasis on league tables than students’ well-being.

But it was the issue of bullying, particularly on social media, that created most passion. Did adults understand what was happening, the extent of it and the impact it had on younger people? Did parents notice?

Sober thoughts on such a sunny afternoon.

My thanks to Parish Trevy, Bobby Medlam, Isaac Hall and Joel Beseau.

Patrolling in Penistone

Later in the week I met neighbourhood officers at Penistone Police Station – Sergeant Dan Goodinson, PC Deanne Cooper and a recently arrived PC Luke Meakin. We had a long talk about how they patrol their large and very rural area, especially the more isolated farms and small villages. Deanne told me that most days when she is on duty she patrols across the area and she does the same when working nights. I did wonder how in winter they managed to get through ice and snow in the type of police vehicle they had – and perhaps that’s a conversation I can have somewhere else.

As it was market day, we finished by meeting shoppers and stall holders – and I stocked up on cheese and olives. I was struck by the way so many seemed to know PC Cooper and greeted her warmly. Some young boys were quite taken aback when she called them by name. ‘How do you know my name,’ one asked. ‘I know everyone,’ was the reply. They were momentarily stunned into silence. This was neighbourhood policing as it ought to be.

I recalled a previous walkabout in Penistone with police officers. An older woman said to me, ‘We never see any police around here.’ I pointed to the officers. It didn’t seem to register. It is a sobering thought that when reality and perception meet, reality doesn’t always win.

On the art of bidding

For the past year we have become used to a new style of government: grants are not given they have to be bid for and you can never quite be sure when the next fund will be announced. I have lost count of the number of pots of money that have been created that we, and/or partners, have been asked to bid for – Towns Fund, Levelling Up Fund, funds for domestic abuse victims.

The latest was last week when we were awarded £850,000 from the Safer Streets Fund (round 2) – for crime prevention measures in the Dearne Valley and Sheffield.

This involved collaborative working between my office, the police and the four local authorities in a very short period of time. Staff had to do their normal work plus getting bids together from partners, doing all the due diligence around them and getting them to civil servants by the specified date – with no guarantee that they would be successful. We took a risk by submitting two bids. Thanks to all who worked on them both and achieved them.

We have just been told that we can expect a further round of Safer Streets funding (£25m) – to further the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) agenda.

Of course, this is no way to bring about coherent or sustainable strategies, and I can see a potential problem arising with this next round.

I have already been lobbied by some women’s groups to support proposals to help women feel safer at night by putting more and better (brighter) lighting in parks – the Park Light campaign, backed by the Sheffield Star. But it is only a few years ago that environmental groups were arguing for fewer lamps and less intensive lighting to reduce carbon emissions – something that Sheffield City Council did.

So can bids for better lighting be compatible with the need to reduce the carbon footprint?

Making bids that fit and do not distort existing strategies is something that campaigners don’t have to think about. But politicians do, and we can’t always have our cake and eat it.

Further reflections on rape conviction rates

Last week I wrote about serious sexual assaults, asking the question, ‘Why are convictions for rape so low?’ – which is a national issue for the criminal justice system and not simply for us in South Yorkshire. I commented on a pilot scheme by Bristol University and Avon and Somerset Police which is seeking to get the police to focus more on the suspect. The theory is that by focusing on the credibility of the victim, crucial information relating to the prior history of the defendant – such as previous complaints against them which may already be held on police data bases – is overlooked.

Since writing that, several have contacted me with other possibilities. One which I had not considered before was especially striking. It concerned an actual case where a successful prosecution seemed a strong possibility. But the victim withdrew her co-operation and asked the police not to take matters further. The reason was that the investigating officers needed the woman’s mobile phone and told her that it might be ‘several weeks or longer’ before she could have it back. This would have made her day to day life almost impossible since everything was on her phone – from the contact details of family and friends to access to her bank accounts. There was no way she could get through ‘several weeks or longer’ without her mobile.

If this is a reason for some people not wanting to proceed, it might be something that victims are not making clear to detectives. But it should be recognised as a real issue; and a way of enabling normal life to continue could surely be found.

As we said last week, there may, in fact, be a number of reasons why people withdraw from rape cases and so there will not be one single, simple solution to making progress.

Stay safe and well.