Putting Safety First

People often ask me what I do as Police and Crime Commissioner. I suppose this is because Commissioners are a relatively new idea. They have only been in existence since 2012.

The work of the police used to be overseen by a Police Authority. This consisted mainly of councillors drawn from local councils – in South Yorkshire that was the four district councils.

But the Home Secretary, Theresa May, felt that these Police Authorities had not been as effective as they should have been. They had not always been robust in questioning the police. And the members of Police Authorities were largely unknown to the public.

She wanted a single person who would have a higher public profile and be directly elected. All his or her working time and energy would be focussed on policing and criminal justice matters. Now there is an elected Commissioner for each of the police force areas of the country.

I took up my post in November 2014 following a by-election across the districts of Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley – about 1.3 million people. So I have been Police and Crime Commissioner for just six months.

Briefly, there are two parts to my job.

The first is outward focussed. I have to get around the county and listen to what the people of South Yorkshire want from the police service. From that I can work out what the priorities of the police should be for the year ahead. I have to set that out in the form of a Plan – the Police and Crime Plan. The police then have to work to achieve the Plan throughout the year.

The second part of the job is to monitor what the police do to achieve the Plan: I hold them to account. Sometimes that means challenging them, sometimes encouraging them.

You can read the Plan on the website for the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire and let me know what you think. I would very much welcome any ideas, comments or suggestions you might have.

So I have to get to know people across the county by meeting individuals and groups in as many different situations as possible. So far, for example, I have been to these meetings: associations of ex-service men and women, Community Forums, Tenants and Residents Associations (TARAs), Partnerships and Communities Together groups (PACTs), boxing clubs, churches and mosques, voluntary bodies…. and many, many more. I visit several of these and other groups every week.

But trying to discover what the public want and expect from the police is not as easy as I thought. As I have gone around the county, the one thing I soon discovered was that there isn’t just one ‘public’ but many! Different groups of people want different things from the police. Sometimes these have been incompatible.

It is not always easy to reconcile, for instance, what some motorists want and what some cyclists want. Or what some farmers want and what some ramblers want. Or what people in rural areas consider a priority and what people in urban areas think most important. I quickly found that what some older people call anti-social behaviour is what some young people call ‘just hanging about with my mates’. And being Yorkshire, people give me their views forcefully and with passion.

But there was one common theme running through everything people said: everyone wanted to feel safe – at home, at work, in the street, in public places, on foot, on the road, by day and by night. So I called my Police and Crime Plan, ‘Putting Safety First’ and made that the overriding outcome of what I want to see the police help to deliver. Over the coming year, making South Yorkshire a place where people both feel and are safe is what all the energies of the police will be directed towards – and on that my term in office will be judged.

So that’s what I do as Police and Crime Commissioner. One thing I am not. The Star once called me ‘South Yorkshire’s Crime Boss’. My neighbour thought she must be living next door to the Mafia.