Crime and the public perception of crime are often quite different.
Last week in a letter to the editor of the Sheffield Star, I was taken to task by a correspondent for suggesting that homicide was ‘a rare crime’. The writer accused me of living in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’.
It’s possible that he misunderstood my words and thought I meant that homicide was not a serious crime. This wasn’t what I meant at all. Homicide is the most serious of crimes. There is a victim whose life has been taken away. There are family and friends who will be plunged into great sorrow, perhaps for years to come. There is a wider community that will be disturbed and feel less safe.
But in terms of numbers, there are, mercifully, few homicides. And not all homicides are murders – which is what I think he had in mind. The category ‘homicide’ also includes manslaughter and infanticide, for instance. So if the correspondent thought homicide is not a rare crime in South Yorkshire, I wonder how many homicides he thought we had in the county year on year.
I wonder how many you think we have? Before I reveal the figures you might like to hazard a guess.
The official figures are those supplied by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). ONS published data shows the following for South Yorkshire in the previous 12 months to March 31 in each of these years:
2019 – 26 homicides
2020 – 17 homicides
2021 – 16 homicides
The numbers are few and have been falling. However, when the figures for the 12 months ending 31 March 2022 are published, I expect to see a slight rise since in January this year we had 4 homicides in one month (3 murders and 1 manslaughter). This may be pointing to a new upward trend and that needs watching. It is possible that having 4 homicides in one month has given the perception that there are more homicides than there are. Nevertheless, for the moment, homicide remains a rare crime in South Yorkshire. We need to keep it that way.
Crime and punishment
While we are on the subject of public perception, we might also note how perceptions about other aspects of crime and criminal justice are often wide of the mark. Take sentencing. What do we think the trends have been in sentencing over, say, the past twenty five years?
This is what the public think has happened over this period (expressed as a percentage, but excluding ‘don’t know’ and ‘prefer not to say’). You can test your own perception against the general public and at the end I’ll reveal the facts. So, over the past 25 years:
Has the average prison sentence become longer, or shorter or stayed the same?
Much longer 2%*
Stayed about the same 11%
Much shorter 19%
Have sentences for those convicted of murder (before release on licence) become longer or shorter or stayed the same?
Much longer 2%*
Stayed about the same 13%
Much shorter 26%
What was the average prison sentence for rape?
Two years or less – 23%
3-4 years – 22%
5-6 years – 27%
7-8 years – 9%
9-10 years* – 6%
More than 10 years – 5%
What percentage of adult males who commit burglary were sent to prison?
25% or fewer – 51%
26-50% – 24%
51-75% – 9%
76%-100%* – 5%
What was the average prison sentence for these burglars?
6 months or less – 35%
7-12 months – 25%
13-24 months – 20%
25-36 months* – 5%
More than 36 months – 4%
In each case, the correct answer has an asterisk against it *.
(The Prison Reform Trust)
Prince’s Trust Team Programme
I was in the Council Chamber of Barnsley’s Town Hall last week to celebrate the achievements of four rather special young people. Deon Roberts, Amber Parry, Jess Leonard and Leah Roberts had completed twelve weeks of a Prince’s Trust Team programme. The programme is designed to help those who have had to overcome various barriers in their lives, perhaps falling out of mainstream education or struggling to find employment or training.
The programme is unusual in that it is led jointly by two emergency services – South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (SYFRS), supported by Barnsley College. The Leader and Deputy Leader – Laura Lyth from SYFRS and PCSO Shaun McDermott from SYP – were new to the job, but they had obviously won the trust and respect of the young people. We had gathered to hear what the four had achieved and for them to be presented with their certificates by the Mayor.
It was very moving to hear the young people say how lacking in confidence they were when they joined the course – yet now they were addressing a large gathering of people in the Council Chamber.
They spoke about the range of activities they had undertaken – at fire stations, with the mounted section – their work experiences and how they had learnt to write a good CV. They had made new friends and were looking forward to the next stage of their journey: one wanted to join the Fire and Rescue Service, one will be starting a job in animal care in the place where she did her work experience, and the others had high hopes of finding jobs. Putting ‘completed a Prince’s Trust programme’ should look very well on any CV. On average, four out of every five young people who take part on the programme go on to employment or training and scores of young people have now been through the course.
I have said before that I think we have to support young people in every way we can at this critical stage in their lives and at this difficult time in our country’s history. The Prince’s Trust Teams programme is one way we can make a significant difference – thanks to Police and Fire working together.
(If you know any young person who might benefit from such a programme, let us know and we will put you in touch with the Leaders.)
Stay safe and well.