PCC Blog 87

Important decisions were taken on Friday by the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel (the Panel).

The Panel, which consists of councillors from the four district councils – Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield – plus two independent members, met last Friday in the fine, panelled council chamber of Barnsley Town Hall to consider the draft Police and Crime Plan I am proposing for the coming year.

The Plan sets out the priorities for the police. I arrive at these after considering what a number of people tell me: the police locally and nationally, the Leaders of the district councils, those I meet at community meetings and the public. I then bring the Plan to the Panel.

They made some further helpful suggestions, which we will now incorporate into it. To take just one example, the Green Party councillor asked if, as well as saying that we want to make South Yorkshire safe for all who ‘live, learn and work’ here, we could add ‘travel’ as well, especially as the new Plan says a lot more about Road Safety. We want our county to be a place where it is safe to live, learn, work and travel.

At the same time we discussed the budget for the coming financial year and the precept (council tax) that supports it, because without the finances, the Plan fails.

At one point I was asked by a Rotherham councillor about the work of the protecting vulnerable people officers (PVP) in safeguarding children who are sexually exploited. As you would expect, this has a very high priority in the Plan and we discussed how PVP will be strengthened in the coming year. Based on the Chief Constable’s assessment of need, the budget proposes an increase in investigations and PVP officers in all districts, including Rotherham – 16 posts in Rotherham, 12 in Barnsley, 25 in Doncaster and 23 in Sheffield. These are significant numbers.

You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when the Rotherham councillor voted against the proposals for the budget and precept – in other words, against strengthening the work of safeguarding children – and proposed no alternatives or amendments.

When councillors tell me they want certain improvements but don’t follow that through by supporting the necessary funding, this looks like willing the ends but not the means.

But as my grandmother used to put it, ‘You can’t have the penny and the bun’.

Levelling up at every level

I had not heard of the Broomhall Homework Club until last week.

But when a BBC reporter began to talk about it on Look North last Friday I stopped what I was doing and took notice. Broomhall is an area of Sheffield that I know well. I once lived there for five years as the local vicar – though my vicarage is now an Islamic centre and the church has been converted into flats. It is probably one of the most deprived parts of the city.

The homework club meets in what was once the church hall but is now a locally run community centre. Their website tells me that they bring together volunteers and up to 50 students, aged 8-18, mainly from ethnic minority groups, to do homework. Seeing and hearing them on television conveyed an atmosphere in the club that was a mix of excitement and fun but also of real purposive learning. Yet they struggle to find the £6,000 they need to keep going this year.

And quite small sums make a big difference: £11 provides staff time for an hour; £60 would cover room hire for a week.

One reason this is of interest to me from a policing and crime point of view, is because this is one of the hotspot areas of the city as far as drug dealing and crime goes. If we are to keep young people away from the gangs, we need clubs like this one where students are not only helped to do well with their academic work but can also find sympathetic adults they can talk to, and, for some, good adult role models that may otherwise be missing from their lives.

If we are serious about ‘levelling up’ – closing the gap between the richer and poorer parts of the country – we are going to need not only the big projects for renewal and regeneration but many small local groups like the Homework Club.

So I wish them well and, yes, we will invite them to apply to our small grants scheme.

Showing the door and guarding the entrance

The police know, as we know, that they can only do their job effectively if they have the trust and confidence of the public. Nothing damages that trust more quickly than bad behaviour on their part.

Once again last week we had a number of instances of that, but perhaps none more shocking than what was revealed in a report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into the behaviour of some officers at Charing Cross police station in London. The IOPC found that between 2016 and 2018 officers were routinely passing offensive racist, misogynist and homophobic emails and WhatsApp messages between themselves, something that had been discovered by chance. The behaviour was so egregious that the IOPC took the unusual step of publishing what they found in full. One example will do. One male officer wrote to a female officer: ‘I would happily rape you … if I was single I would happily chloroform you.’ One police constable who had been disciplined was subsequently promoted to sergeant.

Most disturbing of all was the IOPC conclusion: “We believe these incidents are not isolated or simply the behaviour of a few ‘bad apples’.” In this part of the Met there was a deeply offensive culture.

As far as South Yorkshire goes I am reassured by two things.

First, when Her Majesty’s Inspectors rated SYP as ‘good’ overall a couple of years ago, they also commended its ethical leadership as ‘outstanding’. Of course, that has to be maintained. And second, our Chief Constable is also the National Police Chief’s Council lead for anti-corruption and will be well aware, therefore, of how things can go wrong and what the tell-tale signs might be.

Nevertheless, when I speak to the Chief Constable about these matters, I look for re-assurance on two counts. First, that if any such behaviour is found in South Yorkshire, guilty officers are swiftly dealt with. But also – and this might be harder to achieve, but more critical – I want the police to think about how we stop people with racist, homophobic or misogynist attitudes like this becoming police officers in the first place.

We may have to show some the door, but we also need to guard the entrance.

Stay safe and well.