PCC Blog 99

There are a number of obvious reasons why we need good CCTV coverage in town and city centres, and why it is a good idea for the police to have body worn cameras.

But some reasons are not so obvious.

Take CCTV. When community groups or individual residents ask me for more CCTV cameras, it is usually because they believe they will either act as a deterrent or provide crucial evidence for identifying culprits. And, of course, there is truth in that, even though offenders understand this very well and will always try not to look directly towards any cameras, to keep their heads down and their hoodies up. Even so, their movements can be tracked and that may provide valuable clues.

When the killer of Sir David Amess MP was gaoled for his murder earlier this year, many commented on the sheer amount of CCTV footage that the police had brought together, enabling them to trace his movements across London, on public transport and all the way to the MP’s surgery. The coverage supported the prosecutor’s case about the killer’s intent.

But there is another reason why CCTV and body worn cameras are important and that is not always understood. It can protect the police as much as the public.

Ever since the smart phone made its appearance – late 1990s, early 2000s – it has become possible for people to film incidents that suddenly take place around them. Police officers have become used to the fact that if they attended an incident or make an arrest in the street there is a good chance that someone will film part of what happens. As Police and Crime Commissioner I am sent from time to time short clips from mobile phones showing what the sender tells me is ‘proof’ of police heavy handedness or brutality. And of course, if an officer is using force – taking hold of someone, using a baton, putting on handcuffs, and so on – the few seconds while that is happening do show varying degrees of force. However, the critical question is not, ‘Is force being used?’ because it is. The critical questions are: ‘What led up to this moment? Why did the officer think it necessary to use force? Was this degree of force justified?’ And that short video clip is unlikely to settle any of those questions. Most of the clips I am sent show the point at which some degree of force is used but rarely if ever do they show what led the officer to take the action. Yet that is the crucial issue.

Good CCTV and body worn camera footage – which also captures what the officer is saying to people and what they are saying in return – can, therefore, be very important when an incident comes to be reviewed – for the sake of officers.

Police officers are given considerable powers over us, particularly the power of arrest. Their authority and ability to use those powers rests on the most fundamental principle of British policing – that what they do, they do with our consent. For that to happen, we must have trust and confidence in them and know that when force is used there is a very good reason for it and it is used proportionately. The evidence of CCTV and body worn cameras is one way we can be re-assured.

There are times when the police need to be protected from damaging commentaries that can result from snatches of footage on mobile phones.

Awards for All

Last week I attended an awards ceremony for police officers and staff. Officers who have served for 20 years and have a record of good conduct can be awarded the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Civilian staff are also eligible for a similar medal.

The officers’ medal was instituted under Royal Warrant by King George VI in 1951 and recipients are nominated by the Chief Constable to the Home Secretary. They were presented with their medals by the Lord Lieutenant, Dame Hilary Chapman, the Queen’s representative in South Yorkshire. Those receiving medals were from all ranks – from constable to Assistant Chief Constable.

I presented medals to police civilian staff. I was saying, ‘Thank you’, on behalf of the public, whom I represent.

In her speech, Dame Hilary spoke about the importance to our national life of public service. She understood this because her own career before she became Lord Lieutenant had been as a nurse in the National Health Service.

I said that whenever I talked to community groups about policing I always stressed the vital but usually invisible part played by staff. We welcome increasing police numbers, but without adequate numbers of staff – finance officers, analysts, people in HR, IS, facilities management, vehicle maintenance… and many more – the force simply could not function.

We both mentioned the families – parents, partners, children – who had come to support officers and staff. Police work can often be hard on family life. Officers may be working nights, at weekends or over bank holidays. Detectives on complex cases may have to work very long hours to get results. Investigators into on-line child sexual abuse may have to deal with disturbing images. And there is always the anxiety that comes into the mind of family members from time to time because of the nature of what is involved in getting dangerous criminals off the streets and keeping the rest of us safe from them.

I spoke to some of the partners of those receiving medals – men and women – and some of the children. One teenager said: ‘I’m very proud of her. (Her mum was an officer.) But sometimes I wish I had a normal mum like others in my class.’

Perhaps we should have a third medal: for Long Suffering but Understanding Families.

What are we doing to young people?

Another young person told me about a presentation they’d had at school about knives and crime. I asked how it went. She said it upset her. She had never thought about people her age or at her school or in her class carrying knives before.  And some of the photographs of the knives were ‘pretty scary’. She went on to say they had now had lessons about the way we were destroying the world through climate change, about the future of Covid ‘for the rest of my life’ and whether the war in Ukraine might eventually lead to war across Europe. ‘My whole adult life seems ruined before I start.’

We sometimes worry about criminalising young people. Perhaps we should worry about traumatising them as well.

HMS Sheffield D80

An Act of Remembrance for the officers and crew of HMS Sheffield was held in the cathedral on Sunday, part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Falklands war. Twenty crew members died after an Argentinian Exocet missile struck the ship. I recall meeting Captain Salt and the crew at a civic lunch before the conflict, so this was a moving ceremony. And perhaps the most moving part was when the names of the twenty were remembered. As each name was called, the ship’s bell, which is kept in the cathedral, was tolled.

What I had not appreciated before was just how many of those who died were part of the catering team: 2 Leading Cooks, a catering assistant and 4 cooks. A telling reminder that on a naval vessel, whatever the rank or role, all are equally at risk.

Twilight and evening bell,

and after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Stay safe and well.