THE news that South Yorkshire Police is to recruit 73 new neighbourhood and 220 specialist officers to add “real heft” to community policing will come as cold comfort to two local businesses right here on their patch.
In 24 hours alone, two friends have suffered break-ins at their premises. One owns a bar, the other is a furniture-maker. The loss of takings and tools is hard to bear for such small firms. Thieves may justify their actions by arguing that their victims will be insured anyway. But if you’ve ever had to make an insurance claim you’ll know that being covered only goes so far.
What about the day-to-day running of the business whilst the claim is being processed and the cost of increased premiums after a theft? What about the shock and the residue of uneasiness and vulnerability? And then, of course, there is the feeling that every break-in, indeed every crime, leads to the decline of a community with the subsequent loss of confidence in an area, falling house prices and so on. And we wonder why so many small businesses are going to the wall.
This situation is by no means unique to South Yorkshire. It’s happening everywhere. Five former heads of Scotland Yard say the public have lost confidence in the police after uniting to condemn the “emasculation of British policing” under Theresa May.
That’s why we should at least give a small cheer to SYP for getting its priorities right, for once.
Assistant Chief Constable David Hartley says that the move to recruit these new officers follows a public consultation which found that people wanted neighbourhood teams to be able to deal with burglaries, speeding vehicles, criminal damage and anti-social behaviour.
All of this is beyond the powers of PCSOs (police community support officers), who hitherto have shouldered much of the responsibility with none of the powers of arrest accorded to actual police officers.
With respect to the many dedicated PCSOs who do such good work in the community, there is only so far they can go. It’s heartening that Hartley says a good number who will lose their roles in South Yorkshire are considering becoming full-time officers.
In addition, Stephen Watson, South Yorkshire’s chief constable, says that his specialist officer recruitment drive – including almost 100 firearms officers, dog handlers and specialist investigators – is intended to add “real heft” to the work of the neighbourhood policing teams.
With the police clearly setting out a plan to give the public what they want – and presumably cut crime rates in the process – we have to give them respect for effort.
And nothing beats a proper officer on the beat with the power to apprehend a suspect. It gives people confidence. The same cannot be said of the police’s 101 service, the number designed to deal with ‘non-emergencies’.
Now, I ask you. Most of us are fortunate enough to have cause to call the police very rarely indeed. So when faced with a tricky situation, how does your average citizen make a judgement between dialling 101 or the ‘emergency service’ of 999?
Obviously, if a road accident happens in front of you or you spot a burglar hot-footing it across your neighbour’s garden with a laptop under their arm, there’s only one course of action – 999.
What though of those numerous modern dilemmas that concern us? The open drug-dealing you spot on the street corner across from your house? The seemingly-stolen car crashed into a fence? The screaming and shouting coming through the wall from the couple next door on a regular basis?
Are these emergencies requiring immediate police assistance, or not? SYP says that “if a crime is in progress or a life is at risk, then please call 999”. But clearly, the public are confused.
SYP reports a huge spike in calls to their 101 service recently, including one person who rang to report a lost passport and another taking up police time to moan that the local council was failing to come out to repair their house.
What is clear from the support for replacing PCSOs with police officers is that the law-abiding taxpayers want the police force to have teeth. In the public eye, grey areas are confusing and subject to misinterpretation.
Whilst the idea of a ‘non-emergency’ service is a good one in theory, in practice it is subject to misinterpretation and clearly is wasting police hours which could be better spent actually tackling real crimes instead of dealing with minor inconveniences.
According to the Home Office, it costs £5m a year to fund the 101 service, which receives around 30 million calls a year. I suggest that if police forces really are looking to manage their budgets more efficiently and target their resources better, this is one area which requires immediate assistance.