‘Nothing is ever quite what it seems.’
This has become my guiding mantra for all things to do with policing and crime.
The need for this is made clear all the time. Every week I receive emails and phone messages from people who all want me to make an instant judgement about an incident they have read about or seen on social media. They think a conclusion is obvious and needs stating – forcefully.
Sometimes this is a sentence of the court. Based on a report in a newspaper, I am asked to say a particular sentence has been ‘too lenient’ or ‘too draconian’ – though usually the former. More often these days it is an incident captured on social media. Why haven’t the police arrested this person or that whom they have seen in a snatch of video footage and who is obviously guilty. And so it goes on.
I have to admit that when I read the newspaper report or watch the video I often feel the same way. Then I remember: ‘Nothing is ever quite what it seems.’
What I have to remember about the court case is that the judge hears the whole story so that by the time s/he has to sentence, s/he knows far more than will ever appear in print. Yes, it was a crime and the jury has found him guilty: he deserves punishment.
But the judge also hears what preceded the crime and something about the personal circumstances of the offender. The judge also hears – sometimes – expressions of remorse or regret, and, most importantly, sees the defendant over a period of days, observing his or her reactions, and is able to form an impression about him. But you would know none of this from the newspaper report and have no sense of what was being weighed by the judge before sentence. ‘Nothing is ever quite what it seems.’
Similarly with video footage. I have to remember that what I see on social media is only part of a story. I don’t see what happened before, what led up to the situation developing. I don’t have any appreciation of the context. And because ‘seeing it with your own eyes’ is so compelling, I really do have to repeat the mantra, ‘Nothing is ever quite what it seems.’
On the other hand, I sometimes discover that something is exactly as it seems and we do have to speak out.
Inspired by youth
No, not Emma Raducanu, but the young people I met at the Inspiring Youth Awards ceremony at the police sports centre.
Inspiring Youth is a project that South Yorkshire police has been running since 2004 in partnership with schools. Young people sign up on a voluntary basis and in the evenings and at weekends work with a team of dedicated police volunteers – some serving officers, some Specials – to complete individual folders on topics that they have researched.
They have mentoring sessions and get involved in various activities in the community. Two years ago I met a group in police headquarters who were learning about the different aspects of policing – the mounted section, the dogs, roads police, the roll of police staff and so on. I spoke to them about the role of the PCC.
This year the High Sheriff is taking some round the law courts where they will meet prosecuting and defending barristers and judges. It’s all about opening the eyes of young people to the work of the police and others in the criminal justice system. And hopefully some will be inspired to want to explore career possibilities with the police.
Each year they have an awards ceremony for those who have done particularly well. This year, as a precaution against coronavirus, it was held not in a hotel but a marquee at the Niagara Sports Club. The Lord Lieutenant, the High Sheriff, the Chief Constable, the Chair of Sheffield Rotary and myself all turned out to congratulate them.
The young people are from many different local schools and reflect the many different ethnic groups present in the county. Talking to some of the parents, it was clear that some were from homes that were struggling financially. Nevertheless, all were immaculately turned out – boys in elegant suits, girls in colourful hijabs and dresses. And their parents and guardians were quite rightly pleased and proud.
We can easily get the impression from the media that the relationship between the police and young people is always distant and even fraught. On Friday night, after the ceremony, watching young people of all ethnicities queuing up to be photographed with the Chief Constable, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Panda sighted in Hillsborough
Then on Sunday afternoon I went to see my Neighbourhood Police Team (Walkley), on their day off, pushing a 1960s Panda police car round the track at Owlerton Stadium. It was a sponsored event mainly for the Children’s Hospital (and the Emergency Services Museum). I left them half way through their 40 laps and they had raised £1500 at that point. So congratulations and thanks to them.
And yes, I got to drive (not push) the car round the track, though I did have to dig deep to remember how to double de-clutch. And yes, I did sound the siren.
Paying for the NHS – and the consequences for the police budget
The government announcement last week that national insurance (NI) is to be raised by 1.25% to pay for reducing the NHS coronavirus backlog and then for social care, has serious implications for police finance. The reason, quite simply, is that this was not only a tax that will be paid by employees it will also be paid by employers. It was actually a tax rise of 2.5%.
For South Yorkshire police, because most of our spending is on people – salaries – that means that something like a further £2.2m per annum will have to be found to pay for the hike in NI. (The total budget is around £270m.) At the moment, none of our medium term forecasts for the revenue budget reflect that extra pressure.
Nationally, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chief’s Council will press the Home Office to ensure that these extra financial requirements will be fully funded by government grant. If they are not, this will be a big sum to have to find with few options.
We have little or no room to use reserves. We can seek to make further efficiency savings – though we are already committed to do that anyway – or we can seek to raise more income through council tax – but, as we have explained before in these blogs, South Yorkshire is one of the poorest parts of the country and our ability to raise local revenue is very circumscribed as a result. In past years, the sums of money that were available to us through local taxation were always quite buoyant. New houses were always being built, new businesses appearing, adding to the numbers of those paying council tax, and off-setting those claiming rebates or defaulting. But, due to the pandemic, local authority collection funds, as they are called, are not in a good place, and that is worrying.
The coming years are likely to be very difficult to manage financially, therefore, and we will have to make very careful judgements around spending. It would not be sensible to recruit all these new police officers if within a very few years we were having to reduce numbers in order to pay for National Insurance and balance the books.
Stay safe and well.