PCC Blog 98

For most of my life, I am not sure that stalking was taken as seriously as it should be.

Yet it is a crime that can have a significant impact on victims. When someone has an unwanted fixation on another person and pursues that obsessively and repeatedly, that can affect every aspect of the victim’s life.

Research has shown that eight in ten victims experience effects that are akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. It has led people to move home or change their jobs in a bid to escape the stalker. It has led to people’s social lives being destroyed. It can affect people of any social group and any age.  A victim can feel alone, isolated, vulnerable, frightened and powerless. Increasingly it takes place on-line.

It is not a particularly rare crime. It is estimated that one in five women and one in ten men have been subject to stalking at some time. It is important, therefore, that when this is brought to the attention of the police, they recognise its seriousness, make a careful risk assessment, record it accurately and take appropriate action. There needs to be early recognition that stalking is happening and a real understanding of the total and long-term impact it can have.

I first became aware of the seriousness of stalking in 2016 when Alice Ruggles, a 24-year-old Gateshead woman, was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend. She had reported his behaviour to the police just eleven days before, but it had not been recorded as stalking and the perpetrator was not arrested. In one study of women murdered by men it was found that 94% had first been the victims of stalking. There is also a link between stalking and domestic abuse.

In the year ending September 2021 there were 3524 recorded instances of stalking, yet only a tiny percentage resulted in charges and even less in a conviction.

South Yorkshire Police (SYP) have a lead superintendent for stalking and harassment and officers receive appropriate training.

The police can now apply to the court for a Stalking Protection Order (SPO), though the threshold for securing one is higher than for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. In February, SYP reported to my Public Accountability Board that it had obtained 2 full SPOs with others in progress and where orders were not granted (2), protection measures were in place.

My office commissions support services for victims of crime from the national charity, Victim Support. There is a specific post Independent Stalking Advisor based in South Yorkshire who is specially trained to support victims of stalking.

This week (25-29 April) is National Stalking Awareness Week and I hope that as a result of it, we will see more victims feeling able to come forward to the police in South Yorkshire in the knowledge that they will be heard and taken seriously. And I hope also to see the force making even greater use of Stalking Protection Orders.

Funding figures

The more I get involved in national issues around the funding of police forces, the more perplexed I become.

One way of looking at this is to ask how much a force is able to spend for each person in its force area. To find this out, you need to add together what each force gets by way of government grant and what it gets through council tax (the precept) – and divide by the population statistics. The amounts of funding can be very different.

Some of these differences are not surprising. We would probably all agree that there are some police forces that need more funding than others because of the complexity of their context or the seriousness of the crime and non-crime activities in their area. It would seem right that our neighbours in rural Lincolnshire receive £190 per head – at the lower end of the scale – and the Metropolitan police should have £360 per head at the other. South Yorkshire sits in 26th place out of 43 England and Wales force areas with £222.

But when I look at some of the forces that receive more funding than South Yorkshire, it is puzzling. Surrey police, for instance, have £228 per head. Surrey? I struggle to think what the complex urban areas of high crime might be. Even Durham at £231 does not seem right. Durham, Darlington and Hartlepool are not big places, much of the county is rural and its total population is little more than Sheffield. Cumbria? £258 per head. There are a lot of sheep in Cumbria – I used to live among them – but less than half a million people altogether. The biggest city, Carlisle, is a third the size of Barnsley. And so on.

What causes these differences in funding?

It is partly the way government grant is divided up – the funding formula – but more particularly it’s about the ability of police and crime commissioners to raise money through local tax. Although I raised tax by the maximum permitted this year, the total tax South Yorkshire police get from precept is £57 per head – because we have so few properties that are in the higher bands for council tax purposes. But Surrey police will receive £125 per head by way of precept – because they have many properties in higher tax bands. If we are serious about levelling up, this is also an area that cannot be ignored. Businesses will locate themselves in those parts of the country where crime is being well-managed by the local force; and that does require fair funding.

How to change behaviour

A reader of these blogs, whose job requires him to know a lot of behavioural science, has asked why we think we are going to get speeding motorists to behave differently by punishing them. What behavioural science teaches, he explains, is that people are more likely to change their behaviour in response to rewards than they are punishments.

So, for example, he suggests that if there are speeding hot spots and some motorists who frequently use those roads often drive too fast, why not have a campaign to reward good driving. Set up cameras to record the number plates over a period of time – say six months or a year – and send those who consistently drive within the limits a voucher that would allow them to claim a discount on their car insurance. This would also have a multiplier effect: more motorists driving within the limits encourages others to do the same – the herd effect.

I’m sure there is something in this approach. We spend a great deal of money punishing negative behaviour. We need a nationwide attempt to find some better ways to reward good behaviours – perhaps saving money into the bargain. Downing Street once had a behavioural science unit to come up with ideas that might change behaviour – how to get people to pay their income tax on time. Perhaps the Home Office and the Department of Transport need it more.

Young people in uniform

We all agree that we want to help young people develop positive attitudes towards the police and find constructive things to do outside school. One way of enabling that is to encourage them to join the police cadets.

Cadets can be male or female, in any of our four districts – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield – aged between 15 and 17. They meet in each district on Wednesday evenings (6.30-8pm) and have varied programmes of activities. They wear a police cadet uniform. How smart they look when we see them at the Rotherham Show or on parade before some civic event! And this is something really positive for them to put on their CVs. One local employer told me that if someone said they had been a police cadet, she knew she would get someone reliable.

There is often a waiting list to join, but at this moment new recruits are welcome. If you know any young people who might be interested, let us know. And if they have already had some ‘dealings’ with the police, that is not necessarily a barrier to joining. Induction days will be held in July and August and cadet evenings start again in September. Don’t leave it too late!

(Applicants need to be 15 by 31 August 2022 and no older than 17 on 31 March 2023. More information and application forms can be found on the SYP website by clicking here.)

Stay safe and well.