South Yorkshire Police has admitted it is “disappointed” by what emerged in a report on the views of 16 recruits who had just completed a training course.
The officers told members of the force’s independent ethics panel that they faced an “intense” workload and work pressures, made “more difficult by systems and equipment which do not work well or are unavailable”.
The panel’s report said: “All felt pressures to do things right/ not cut corners, but some officers had encountered alternative pressures in teams not to call a crime to avoid adding to already heavy workloads.”
It added: “The most common dilemma appears to be ‘do I/we ‘crime’ this incident?’ in the knowledge that this will generate additional work.”
The panel’s report, seen by The Yorkshire Post after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, said its work “only represented the opinions and views of a small number of officers”.
But it said: “However, the commonality of issues and themes emerging indicates the need for the force and/or the [police and crime commissioner] to consider further in depth and systematic review.”
The suggestion that officers are encouraged not to record some incidents as crimes was described as ‘ludicrous’ by the Police Federation, who said a risk-averse culture had increased the amount of recording and reporting.
The report was carried out by ex-management consultant Linda Christon and former Sheffield head teacher Michael Lewis, two members of the independent ethics panel set up in January 2015 to restore public trust and confidence in the aftermath of the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal.
They spent the morning with 16 post-Foundation Course officers, all of whom were white and had some prior experience of working for South Yorkshire Police. Their findings have been handed to the force’s Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable.
Among the observations made by the report’s authors was of a “very strong public service ethic” and a desire to make a difference for vulnerable people.
This was despite the ‘legacy issues’ facing the force such as the scandals over Hillsborough, Orgreave and Rotherham, which the report said the officers were aware of and were “even more determined to prove SYP has changed”.
The report said a “strong sense of personal values and moral purpose” was evident in the new recruits, and that there was a strong emphasis on victim focus.
It said all 16 “showed an implicit understanding of the importance of ethical standards” but only one officer was familiar with the Code of Ethics, launched in 2014 by the College of Policing to set out standards of behaviour the public can expect from officers.
The ethics panel members said they were told by the officers that the attitudes and behaviours of their managers were “draining”.
And they noted: “There is a concern about individual safety and the use of single crews was cited as an issue, as was the level of detail and background passed on from the call handlers.”
Responding to the report, South Yorkshire Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said: “The findings of the report conducted by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Independent Ethics Panel are disappointing but do include some real positives in that it found a ‘very strong public service ethic’ and ‘a desire to make a difference for vulnerable people’ which is absolutely vital for us.
“The fact that the report comments that a ‘strong sense of personal values and moral purpose’ was evident in the new recruits, and ‘that there was a strong emphasis on victim focus’ is really encouraging.
“In relation to the observations about equipment hindering staff, we are shortly to introduce new contact management systems and have rolled out mobile devices to support our officers in the demanding roles they perform.
“Our priorities are public safety and protecting members of the public from crime, and I want to make it clear that if someone tells any of my officers that they have been the victim of a crime, then the clear expectation is that we record it as a crime.
“This message is also further reinforced by one of our current staff awareness campaigns, which is called ‘Crime it’.”
Zuleika Payne of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “The notion that officers are encouraged not to record crimes is utterly ludicrous.
“We are more risk-averse than ever before so rather than avoiding recording crimes, the reality is quite the opposite. Legacy issues, the learning from them and the increase in crime means more reporting and recording.
“Officers are now having to deal with matters which were not recognised as recordable crimes in the past, for example cyber crime and the dark web, hence a further increase in their workload.
“It is worth bearing in mind that not every incident is a crime for recording purposes, we have a national crime recording standard to adhere to.
“The majority of incidents are classed as a crime initially and only declassified if circumstances dictate and after strict scrutiny using additional verifiable information.
“If you were to ask frontline officers what their biggest challenges are day to day, in addition to the inherent dangers police officers face, the sheer volume of recorded crime awaiting investigation which is astronomical.
“The 2,400 officers working in South Yorkshire are only too well aware of the position adopted by the force: ‘If the victim says it’s a crime, crime it’.”