South Yorkshire Police has been praised for its approach to outside scrutiny and willingness to be self critical, in the latest Annual Report of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC) Independent Ethics Panel.
The report has been welcomed both by the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable at the recent meeting of the Public Accountability Board this week.
The Independent Ethics Panel (IEP) was established in 2015 by Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to increase public trust and confidence in the way police officers carry out their duties.
The latest report covers the period between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017. During that period the Panel has undertaken a number of pieces of work around areas of policing activity in which policy or practice raises ethical questions and where these areas have potential to arouse public concern.
Andrew Lockley, Chair of the IEP, said: “The Panel has been encouraged in all the projects we have undertaken, by the Force’s willingness to be open.
“Despite the legacy issues that face the Force, and the burden carried by those past events, the Force that we are working with today is unrecognisable from the headlines generated by investigations into past failures. Specifically we do not recognise the description used by one politician during the heat of the Hillsborough Inquests verdict, of a Force ‘rotten to the core’. We see a Force that is willing to be self-critical and that welcomes outside scrutiny.”
During the year the IEP has begun to monitor the use of force, specifically around the use of tasers. Last year South Yorkshire officers used taser on 102 occasions, which is below the national average. Based on the work carried out so far the IEP suggest that South Yorkshire officers are only using taser ‘when there is a good chance that they would need to be discharged’, which it feels shows sound judgement as to their use. However, this conclusion is based on figures from one year and will be monitored by the IEP over future years as part of work it is carrying out on the use of force more generally.
The use of stop and search powers has also been reviewed and the figures show a dramatic reduction in the number of stop and searches carried out in South Yorkshire from 22,000 in 2013 to 2,580 in 2016. At the same time the proportion of stop and searches resulting in further action (arrests, summons or penalty notice) has risen, which, the Panel suggests, demonstrates that the power to stop and search is being better targeted. The Panel did express concerns that there is a higher proportion of searches being undertaken on people from minority and ethnic communities in 2016 than the previous year yet the chances of ‘further action’ as an outcome were about the same for all communities. This will be explored further in the year ahead.
A sub-group of the IEP has looked extensively at the ethical issues that would be raised by the introduction of body-worn video in South Yorkshire. This has identified five ethical issues where clear guidance and training would need to be prepared before body-worn video could be introduced in South Yorkshire. These areas centre around the recording – when to and when not to – and consent of those being filmed.
Two panel members have undertaken a project to establish how well the Force embeds ethical practice into the training of new recruits. They have spent many hours observing new recruits and speaking with supervising officers across the Force to see how that continues when newly trained officers take up their roles. They have concluded that ethical standards are integrated into all aspects of training; in particular that there is a heavy emphasis on the ethos of serving the public and repeated attention to attitudes and values.
In the year ahead the IEP have been asked to undertake a project to look at culture within the SYP workforce. This will report back in around six months.
Other ongoing projects include reviewing complaints performance data and monitoring of reported hate crimes and incidents.
The full report is published on the SYPCC website.