All police officers I meet want to do a good job; but it would be hard to beat the enthusiasm and commitment of the off-road bike team (ORBIT).
When I became Police and Crime Commissioner seven years ago, the team did not exist, but from a small beginning it now consists of a sergeant and six police constables. They are also assisted on an occasional basis by appropriately trained officers from neighbourhood teams. I imagine the enthusiasm stems from the fact that for these officers their hobby – they enjoy bikes – is also their job.
Some of their activities are obvious: they go after those who are causing a nuisance with off-road motorcycles and quad bikes. I have written before about the menace of quad bikes across farmland where one bike can destroy thousands of pounds worth of crops or traumatise animals in a matter of minutes. So the team will target key locations and offenders – which is why reporting and intelligence is so important.
Many of these nuisance bikes are stolen – about 100 a month. And they are increasingly being used by criminal gangs in drug dealing, burglary and robbery. (I was astonished at how much some of the quads and bikes cost to buy.)
And the team are expanding their work, as they explained to me when I visited their base in the Ops Complex last week.
I would not have guessed that they are helping to prevent suicides by making regular trips to those sites – viaducts and bridges – to which depressed people sometimes gravitate. I did not know that the team has a quad bike which carries a drone so that they can take a bird’s eye view of criminal and anti-social behaviour before the offenders spot them.
They join with neighbourhood and rural crime officers to help deter crime and enforce the law in rural areas. I believe they are starting to make a real difference to what South Yorkshire police are able to offer to our rural communities. (I have also this week joined the Rural Crime Network to emphasise the commitment I want to make to tackling rural crime and anti-social behaviour. This is a national organisation run through the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners disseminating news of good practice.)
Last year the off-road bike team had interactions with 3828 members of the public, processed 59 people who had no insurance, sent 155 warning letters, made 36 arrests, seized 29 vehicles valued at £286,500 and recovered 66 stolen vehicles with a value of £276,470. They are busy people!
They are active on social media so if you have issues with quads and bikes, let the team know.
Where is Thurgoland?
When I said to some senior officers last week that I was visiting Thurgoland, one said, ‘Where is Thurgoland?’ If you don’t live in the Barnsley District, near to Penistone, or have never travelled on the A629 from Sheffield past Wortley Hall towards Huddersfield, you might ask the same question.
It is a small village of around 2,000 whose parish council invited me to meet them – virtually – to talk about matters of crime, anti-social behaviour and road safety. We had a very productive conversation and I will be visiting the area in person in the coming days to follow up on what we talked about. There are many villages across the county like Thurgoland and without their parish council their voice is not likely to be heard.
Crime, ASB and policing were touched on, and PC Jade Barnard, one of the neighbourhood team, was well able to deal with them. But what people mainly wanted to discuss were matters of road safety and speeding. It soon became apparent that most of the queries and comments were not for the police but for other agencies. But which ones?
I have noticed this before, though my visit to Thurgoland helped to crystallise matters. The reality is that there are so many agencies involved with roads, speed limits and road safety that none of us know who to turn to if we have a problem.
Try these simple tests. Who is responsible for speed limits on major A roads, like the A629 or A616? Which agencies carry out speed checks, decide speed limits, paint white lines, maintain signage, or take responsibility for cars badly parked outside schools? What are the criteria that could lead to a change in speed restrictions or would enable a Speed-watch scheme?
I’ll return to this in a future blog, but for the moment I just want to note that during the period of the lock-downs, the issues that people most wanted to talk to me about in rural areas were those of road safety and speeding. It was as if, tied to home, we became more conscious of the places where we lived and any passing traffic. But few knew what to do next.
I am asking the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership to think about this and help make something that is currently quite opaque a bit clearer.
Rebuked by the Chief Constable
The Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner joined together last week for a ‘listening event’ on the important topic of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). We invited individuals and organisations in South Yorkshire who had something to contribute to come and have their say.
We wanted to see which organisations were doing what to prevent violence or to help victims, and what the experiences of victims were. In this way we could each see what others were doing and where any gaps in service provision might be. We could make valuable links and, if further funding becomes available in the future – through the VRU, for instance – we would have some idea about who might be able to take advantage of it.
Dr Michaela Rogers of Sheffield University, who researches VAWG nationally and internationally, set the scene for us with some terrifying global statistics.
- 1 in 3 women will be subject to intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence during their lives
- 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day
- 200 million women and girls aged 15-49 years have undergone female genital mutilation
- 1 woman in 10 in the European Union reported cyber-harassment
VAWG, she said, was complex, multi-dimensional and evolving – in the home, on the streets and, increasingly, on-line.
Recently I sent an email to the Chief Constable about VAWG. In her reply she changed the acronym VAWG to MVAWG – the ‘M’ standing for Male. It was a way of reminding me that the violence we are talking about is male violence – ways of behaving that for too many men are normalised and routine.
I felt suitable rebuked – but take the point. If we can’t do something about male attitudes and behaviour we shall not make the world safer for women and girls.
Stay safe and well.