As a result of the COVID19 crisis I am having to work from home and so I am unable to visit all those different groups and organisations across South Yorkshire that I would normally meet.
They include parish and town councils, tenants and residents groups, youth organisations, community associations, and so on. This is a great loss because this is how I learn about how the police are doing on the ground in communities. However, members of my staff are contacting many organisations to see if there are particular concerns at this time. If you have concerns, let us know and we will get answers for you.
So I am writing this to keep in touch with as many of you as I can and I will do this each week until the crisis passes.
I have been able to continue almost all my regular committees and boards by conference call (we all dial in on the phone). These have included: the Public Accountability Board, where I asked questions of the Chief Constable and senior officers about how the force is dealing with Covid (the audio is available on the website); and the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit. There have been gains in this: we have saved a lot of travel time and reduced our carbon footprint!
South Yorkshire Police
The police have responded now to two emergencies in short order – the floods before Christmas and now the corona virus. In both they have received praise from the public. My job is not, of course, to take operational decisions – that is for the Chief Constable. But it is to ensure that they retain public trust and confidence in what they do and the way they do it. In the present situation they are asked to make sure that people follow the guidance around staying at home and keeping social distance (6ft). I believe they have done this by seeking first to persuade people and only taking enforcement action (such as fines) as a last resort. Where an individual officer has been a little over zealous, the force has apologised and learnt from it. My view is that with this emergency legislation we are all feeling our way and there may be the odd misstep. We are all learning and that requires a degree of understanding on all our parts.
The force has a Gold group, meeting regularly, chaired by an assistant chief constable, to manage the crisis. It gathers all the information needed and takes strategic decisions. It has to be very fleet of foot because the situation moves on so rapidly. It must also think ahead: what will happen as we move out of the lock-down? And it must be aware of the impact the disease is having on the health and well-being of the force as well. There are many officers and staff in very exposed or vulnerable situations. I have told the Chief Constable that the force must have whatever resources it needs to protect and keep safe police officers and staff.
The Emergency Legislation
The police have been given extraordinary and wide-ranging powers for a period of time to help the country combat the spread of the virus. I am satisfied that so far they have used these in an appropriate and proportionate way and as a result the public support them. The force knows that these powers will lapse and ‘normal’ policing will resume and when that happens they need the confidence of the public to be there still.
I recently wrote to the leaders of South Yorkshire mosques to support and encourage them as they approached Ramadan and had to keep their buildings closed. In normal times this would be a month of prayer and fasting, with people visiting the mosque, often on a daily basis. As a person of Christian faith, I know how hard it was to have locked churches during Holy Week and Easter, as it was for Jews when celebrating Passover without the usual family gatherings. In Ramadan Muslims also seek to do acts of charity and I suggested that one way of doing that this year was to see the observance of the emergency guidance as an act of charity in itself – towards all our fellow citizens.
My office is now closed and we are all working from home. But you can still contact us:
General queries and correspondence:
Telephone: 0114 2964150
Fiona Topliss, Communications and Engagement Manager:
Telephone: 07468 472975