Vote will define North Yorkshire Police’s future – Susannah Fish

WHEN the now-disgraced Philip Allott, the former Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) for North Yorkshire, commented on live radio in the aftermath of the Sarah Everard tragedy that women “need to be a bit streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be”, he was widely condemned for his actions.

Voters in North Yorkshire go to the polls on Thursday to elect a new police, fire and crime commissioner.

Allott rightly stepped down after facing a unanimous no-confidence vote from the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel. As this process was going ahead, many expressed frustration that a mechanism known as ‘recall’ (a process where voters can essentially reverse their vote and call an individual back from their elected position) wasn’t available for the PFCC role. Allott resigned of his own accord shortly after the incident.

Weeks later, recall is not the conversation that needs to be had right now ahead of Thursday’s by-election to decide Allott’s successor. What we’re seeing here is a distraction from the very real issue at hand: gender-based violence and what the new PFCC and North Yorkshire Police need to do to combat it. 

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I’ve spent my life in policing and witnessed the full horror of gender-based violence – and the devastation that it causes to families. The scale and impact is horrific, and can be repeated on a generational cycle. It takes courageous and consistent leadership as well as new thinking to create the conditions that can break the cycle and transform policing.

Phiip Allott was forced to resign as North Yorkshire's police, fire and crime commissioner.

In adopting misogyny as a hate crime, North Yorkshire Police have shown their willingness to challenge the status quo, but they now need a PFCC who is able to set priorities that move them even further forward to preventing violence against women and girls.

This form of violence is alarmingly commonplace and no part of the world is untouched by it, including North Yorkshire.

Data from 2018 shows that 15 domestic abuse offences are reported to North Yorkshire Police every day, and domestic abuse accounts for 14 per cent of recorded crime.

In the past few years, crime statistics show that an average of nine women are sexually assaulted and seven are raped every week in the county, and harassment and stalking reports have gone up by a staggering 83 per cent. And this is only the tip of the iceberg because these types of crimes are so under-reported.

Voters in North Yorkshire go to the polls on Thursday to elect a new police, fire and crime commissioner.

In the face of numbers like that it can be hard to push beyond the sinking feeling that this kind of violence is unstoppable, no matter how effective a police system is – but I firmly disagree. Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Women’s lives can be changed for the better when policing and politics align – which is exactly what the PFCC  role is all about.

This by-election is a chance to re-prioritise the policing of North Yorkshire with an approach that focuses on preventing violence, not simply managing it. What would that look like? For a start, it would mean addressing sexist attitudes that led to the kind of victim blaming displayed by Allott.

Misogynistic attitudes impacts how cases are deal with – for example, the recent examples of rape cases being dropped by police without referral to the Crown Prosecution Service. Without officers who are trained to recognise and acknowledge that – and to ensure women who report violence feel believed and respected – trust between women and officers will remain low and cases will continue to be impacted.

An independent inquiry into misogyny in North Yorkshire Police, which PFCC candidate Dr Hannah Barham-Brown is advocating for, is an essential step in the right direction. 

In a by-election as critical as this one, there can be no room for distractions. That’s why I’m endorsing Dr Hannah Barham-Brown from the Women’s Equality Party as the candidate for North Yorkshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.

She is unapologetically focused on tackling the issues I spent my career working to eradicate, and will bring new energy and perspective to a role that bridges the gap between police and politics. Think of it this way: if the next PFCC is more committed to ending the daily threat of violence women in North Yorkshire face, instead of lambasting them for not knowing what no one outside of policing and law enforcement knows, those grim crime figures will start to fall, instead of continuing to rise, and lives will not be lost and ruined.

Susannah Fish is a former Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police.

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