It was as I talked to a victim of domestic abuse that I realised what we are currently witnessing in the Kremlin.
The domestic abuse victim told me how for years she had lived in a state of fear. Her partner, she felt, had gradually changed and become more controlling. He needed to know where she was at every moment and who she was in contact with.
Every so often he checked her mobile phone. He controlled the finances. His behaviour became more menacing and threatening as the years went by. She ‘walked on egg shells’ all the time, trying to please him but, more particularly, trying not to displease him. She had two children and stayed in the home for their sake, fearing the consequences for them of his displeasure.
Eventually he became violent in front of the children. A neighbour witnessed this and called the police – and this led to their escape.
What we see in these domestic situations is the coercive and controlling behaviour of the tyrant – not mental illness. They have to be in control and they create an atmosphere of menace and fear around them to produce submission. If challenged, their response becomes angrier and more extreme. It is frightening when we see it in a domestic setting. It is terrifying when we see it in a world leader.
To frack or not to frack
The possibility that there might be fracking either in South Yorkshire or close to our boundaries was never good news for policing. Fracking – to release shale gas – is controversial. It is generally opposed by those who live near to the fracking sites and it attracts environmental protestors from far and near. We saw this happen at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire and over the hills in Lancashire. I remember spending some time a few years ago looking at sites near to Misson in North Nottinghamshire, which would impact on our side of the county line. I also spoke with residents in Woodsetts – another site, but in South Yorkshire. People knew they would be affected by daily convoys of lorries both while the site was being prepared and also afterwards, taking away the water used in the process for decontamination at Blackburn Meadows in Sheffield. But they also feared having their drinking water affected or properties disturbed by minor tremors. ‘Yes’, they told me, ‘We are united in our opposition.’
These protests are not easy to police. Sites are often in open countryside giving many points of access. It is difficult to remove determined protestors from trees or underneath vehicles. The police face the usual dilemma: they must enable peaceful protest but also make it possible for people to go about their lawful business. This is potentially a huge demand on officer numbers and quickly runs up big bills in overtime, as the Lancashire constabulary found.
In the end fracking turned out to be financially more risky than first thought. Perhaps it was not surprising, therefore, when the government declared a moratorium.
But now, the war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia – including its lucrative business of supplying the west with natural gas – is seeing energy costs soar and a rising demand for alternative sources of energy. The possibility of fracking is returning, even though, in a recent poll only 17% of the population supported it. I am not sure what our most recently elected MPs will do if the government says it will lift the moratorium.
I had a Policing Protests Panel the last time fracking looked as though it might happen. Panel members are briefed by South Yorkshire police (SYP) and then observe how the protest is managed. This is how I satisfy myself that SYP are walking that very difficult tightrope of enabling protestors to protest and workers to work. I will revive the panel of needed but I would much prefer none of this to happen at all.
Safer Streets More Police
The first thing that a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has to do once elected is to produce a Police and Crime Plan. This sets out the priorities for policing during the PCC’s term of office. It is then renewed each year.
When I was re-elected in May last year I decided to produce a transitional plan to see us through to the end of this year while preparing a more substantial document to start now. The world had changed a lot since I first produced a Plan – way back in 2014 – and I wanted to ensure that the new Plan would capture those changes and see us through to 2024 when my term ends.
I’ve called the new Plan, Safer Streets More Police. This seems to sum up two big changes that I wanted to highlight.
On the one hand there is the increase in police numbers – More Police. Since we began recruiting a couple of years or so ago, and by 2024, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) will have seen 1444 new recruits joining. Some are to replace those retiring or leaving – 720. Some are our share of the government’s commitment to put back those that were cut during austerity – 504 – and some are those we are funding from our own resources – 220. But all this has to be carefully managed.
New officers have a lot to learn. There is law – rather a lot of it. There are certain skills – how to tell the difference, for instance, between someone behaving badly and someone suffering a mental health episode, and what to do next. Some of this training will need to be delivered by experienced officers – and that means those officers will have to spend at least some time away from their normal duties – which has implications. All this takes time and planning.
More Police but also Safer Streets. There are a number of aspects to that.
It includes the often expressed concern during the lock-down period from many parts of the county about speeding motorists and a general concern around road safety. But perhaps the most significant issue is the focus on violence against women and girls (VAWG). This is a huge agenda. It has always been there but in the last couple of years it has come into sharper focus with the murder of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, and anxieties around stalking and harassment. The public at large has become more alarmed and anxious for action and change. It involves issues and concerns of many different kinds.
The Chief Constable and I are very mindful of the fact that if we are to tackle many of those crimes – such as sexual assaults or domestic abuse – victims have to be able to trust the police. Yet we know that in recent months much of that trust has eroded and has to be won back.
It is not, however, a matter for the police alone. If we look, for example, at serious sexual assaults – rapes – and ask why there are so few prosecutions, we have to look at what happens to a victim as they go through the criminal justice system. Yes, there are police officers. But there are also lawyers and courts. And there are delays and a need for support. We know that many victims fall away; but we don’t fully understand why or at what point.
As a contribution to that, one of my staff has been noting what happened to a group of women who all reported that they had been raped in one month in 2021. We will monitor their experience, seeing how many remain in the criminal justice system and how many drop away. And we will try to figure out why. This may only help as far as South Yorkshire is concerned, though it may also have something to say more generally. It is something I shall be returning to in the weeks and months ahead.
Stay safe and well.