I feel like breaking out a small bottle of Prosecco because I have reached one hundred.
I don’t mean I am one hundred years old – though my grandchildren may have views on that – but this blog is the one hundredth I have written since we first went into lock-down in 2020. I started to write as a way of keeping in touch with people who in normal times I might come across in person – such as councillors and members of community groups – but the advent of the virus meant that I was now restricted to meeting people remotely.
It gave me a chance to share views, to say what I had been doing, to explain aspects of policing that not all of us might know about, and so on. I’ll keep going as long as it seems to serve a purpose.
Boxing and fighting are different things
Last week I dropped in on the Sheffield City Boxing Club in Sharrow, Sheffield, run by Brendan Warburton MBE.
I went with staff from the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). The club is one of a number that receives a grant from the VRU to run sessions for young people. Generally these grants are for teenage boys and girls navigating those critical years between childhood and adult life.
We want to provide them with meaningful activities outside school and influence their behaviour – a contribution towards preventing them being drawn into anti-social behaviour or crime. But the session I went to see was for children from a primary school during school hours.
The teacher who came with them told me how the school – and the community – had become troubled by some aspects of the children’s behaviour. ‘They seemed to have little respect for adults, parents, teachers or one another. They didn’t seem to have much respect for themselves either – poor estimations of their own worth. They also scrap a lot.’ But since coming to the club there had been improvements.
It was noticeable how respectful they were to one another and to the adults who were leading the activities – young professional boxers and two students on placement from Sheffield Hallam University. They sat still. They listened to instructions. They were focused. They joined in the activities with enthusiasm. They enjoyed it. And afterwards they put away the equipment they used tidily.
The coaches tell the young people that there is a world of difference between fighting and boxing. Boxing is about discipline and focus and learning to respect the people you train with and those you spar with.
Two things I reflected on. First, helping rising generations seems to require earlier and earlier interventions. Second, while adult role models are important, we don’t always realise that the young people become role models to one another. They imitate the behaviour of their peers. The club is able to set a standard. And third, as a result, we are very dependent on having clubs like the Sheffield City Boxing Club. They are able to engage the young people in activities that they really enjoy, but they are also willing to use that as the ‘teachable’ moment when a difference can be made.
The cost of living and the cost of policing
In the coming weeks police pay increases will be determined nationally. Since 80% of the budget is pay, the size of that increase will make a big difference to the managing of the budget as the year progresses.
Along with all other police and crime commissioners, I had to make a judgement about what I thought the pay increase would be when putting the budget together last December for this financial year April 2022 to March 2023. If police pay increases are bigger than I have allowed in the budget, then savings will have to be made to balance the books. The government has made it crystal clear that no additional funding will be made available during the year to help with pay.
But inflation looked very different back then. The current cost of living crisis, which has sent some police families to food banks, is now putting pressure on the negotiators for a bigger increase.
I want police staff and officers to secure a reasonable settlement in their pay negotiations. But I also know that without government help this will put considerable pressure on the budget not just for this year but for years to come.
I have always been grateful to my father for passing on a saying of Professor C.E.M. Joad. Joad was a philosopher who used to appear on a BBC radio programme called The Brains Trust. He was part of a panel who answered questions from the public – a bit like Any Questions. He often began his answers by saying, ‘It all depends on what you mean by …..’ – and my father taught me to do the same.
So when I am interviewed by broadcasters and journalists I often start my answer with Joad’s comment, or something like it. It buys you a little time to think about the answer and the consequences of that answer.
One of my police and crime commissioner colleagues might have benefited from the Joad principle last week when she was asked in a televised interview: ’Do you think your police force is institutionally racist?’ She did not reply, ‘It all depends on what you mean by ….’ but immediately said, ‘Yes’. This caused a storm in her area because different people ‘heard’ this in different ways. In particular, the chief constable felt she had to defend the force from what she heard as a stark accusation of racism. The PCC later issued a statement of clarification: ‘institutional racism’ did not mean that individual officers were racist it was a reference to disproportionality in such things as stop and search which pointed to possible unconscious discrimination and bias. But by then the damage was done.
‘Institutional racism’ was a term used by Sir William Macpherson in a report following his enquiry into the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, by a group of young white men in London in 1993. He said the police investigation was incompetent and the force was ‘institutionally racist’. By this he meant that the culture of the force was such that officers acted in ways that unconsciously discriminated against black people – and this had to be acknowledged and addressed if the trust of the black community was to be regained.
If a police force is described now as ‘institutionally racist’ in the sense in which Sir William used the term, then that suggests that it remains stuck in the culture of the 1990s, unable or unwilling to recognise the possibility of unconscious bias and unable or unwilling to do anything about it – which is not what the PCC meant.
I certainly don’t think it would be fair to talk about South Yorkshire police in such terms. Our force works hard at tackling discrimination. Officers understand what unconscious bias is and how it might affect their own attitudes and practice. There is a force-lead officer whose role is to help make more progress and last year the Race, Inclusion and Equity Association was formed bringing together officers, staff and volunteers from across the force to make SYP more inclusive. Overt racism is not tolerated. I support all these efforts by whatever means I can.
There is disproportionality in such things as stop and search and the force knows it needs to be more inclusive. But it would be quite wrong to suggest that this is not recognised and being faced.
Democracy takes time
Last week saw local elections in Barnsley and Sheffield and the election of a new mayor for South Yorkshire. I went to the counting of votes for the mayor at the English Institute of Sport. It took a long time because of the system of preferential votes. We began at 12 noon and finished about 5.30pm when Oliver Coppard was declared the South Yorkshire mayor.
I used the time between counts to chat to people from the different political parties, because as police and crime commissioner I need to get on with people of all political stripes.
I also took the opportunity of having a chat with the new mayor’s mother.
We must gather vital intelligence whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Stay safe and well.