PCC Blog 60

Nothing seems to divide opinion quite as much as the age at which we think children should be held responsible for any crimes they commit.

I get emails from people who are outraged when a young person is not prosecuted for a crime and emails from people who are outraged when they are.

Of course the problem starts with our understanding of childhood itself. The point at which a child is thought to be adult is different from society to society and from age to age. It is not so long ago that children were regarded as little adults and sent up chimneys and down mines. My mother left school at 14 and worked (literally) for the rest of her life in a factory; she died in her early fifties. Even today we have different ages for treating people as mature enough to take on certain responsibilities: getting married; driving a car; taking out a mortgage; fighting for the country; and so on. And judging by the way many children are now dressed – think of the growing trend for school proms – we seem to want to abolish the distinction between childhood and adulthood altogether.

I have young people telling me they don’t want to be treated like children and adults telling me we must not criminalise the young. I think you could say we are confused.

But the age of criminal responsibility is 10, and children do commit crimes, including quite serious ones, and the police have to deal with them.

If we were clearer about childhood, we might make better decisions about how we deal with those who are involved in criminality.

In South Yorkshire, when children are sentenced to serve time in either a young offender institute –  such as the one at Wetherby – or a secure children’s home – such as Aldine House, Sheffield – our Youth Offending Services start to work at once to prepare them for their return to the community. They treat them as children and know that they are often more sinned against than sinning, themselves the victims of abuse or neglect. The danger is that these children write themselves off even as they have so often been written off, and see only a life of criminality ahead of them. Time in secure accommodation can be used well to encourage them to think differently about themselves and their future, and to plan and prepare carefully for it. A difference can be made – and I have met those who have been helped to have a different view of themselves and have turned their young lives around.

The key is to get them to believe in themselves. And that often starts by having people around them who believe in them first.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. But done it can be – and I support those who work with these young people in every way I can.

Making ends meet

If you are a government you can decide that balancing the books is a problem for another day.

That has been the government’s stance for the past year and a half as they have borrowed eye-watering sums of money to combat the coronavirus. They have had little choice, but currently, it would need tax rises of about £8,000 per household to pay down the debts we have run up during the pandemic.

We can’t take that approach with the police budget. As the Chief Constable and I start to put together next year’s budget, I know that what we want to spend must be matched by income, and if we don’t have the income, we must cut our coat according to the cloth.

The principal sources of funding are, of course, government grant and council tax. But the ratio between them differs widely from force to force, and in some cases very widely.

In some wealthier and usually more rural parts of the country, they are less dependent on government grant.

Percentage of income for policing from council tax and grant

More rural areas:      

Surrey                         56% council tax, 44% grant

Dorset                         50% – 50%

North Yorkshire           48% – 52%


More urban areas:

South Yorkshire           26% council tax, 74% grant

Merseyside                  23% – 77%

Northumbria                18% – 82%

What this means is that if government grant is cut by x%, that has a much bigger impact on the resources available for policing in South Yorkshire than in Surrey. It also means that any losses can be made up from a smaller rise in council tax in Surrey – where property values are higher – than in South Yorkshire.

But the public, who will not know about these different ratios, will assume that a rise or fall in government grant will affect everyone equally, and will not understand why a PCC in a rural area may only need to impose a small rise in the precept (council tax), whereas a PCC in a more urban area may have to raise the precept more.

I have yet to find a simple way of explaining any of this.

Good work of note

Each morning at about 6 o’clock, I read an email from the police headed ‘Chief’s Log’. This captures some of the more serious incidents that officers have had to deal with in the previous 24 hours.

After listing the daily accounts of robberies, break-ins, drug offences, assaults, and so on, there is also a space for senior officers to record instances of ‘good work of note’. This always catches my eye and I am sorry the public are not able to glimpse this as well. It can be a real eye-opener into some of the things that officers do during the course of their everyday duties that are a bit special.

Last week I noticed that doctors from one of our hospitals had written to the force. They had been dealing with a man who had an arterial bleed. Two officers had gone to the incident and their tactical medical training – TACMED – enabled them to apply a tourniquet to his arm. Their quick action had stabilised the victim and saved his life.

One can only imagine the scene with so much blood and the need to act with speed and without panic. But for our officers it’s all in a day’s work.

Stay safe