“YORKSHIRE born and bred”: it’s an often heard remark that sums up the strong sense of identity that is felt in this, our unique part of the country. It’s used by many who, like me, left for places further afield and then came home again.
In my case it was a return to policing rural Yorkshire after 10 years in the Metropolitan Police. I returned to Yorkshire because my heart is here. I was lucky to be able to police the communities and places I have a strong attachment to. Today I speak to police officers the length and breadth of Yorkshire on a daily basis. Many, like me, are born and bred in God’s Own County.
If you listen to the almost daily media stories about our police, you would be led to believe that they are all corrupt, and doing a terrible job. They aren’t. Don’t get me wrong, policing in Yorkshire has had its fair share of criticism and in some cases rightly so. The historic failings associated with the Miners’ Strike, Hillsborough, Savile and Rotherham have impacted on public confidence and it is only right and just that those responsible for any wrongdoing or inaction should be held to account.
What we must recognise is that the vast majority of police officers across North, West, South Yorkshire and Humberside had no involvement in these events. Some weren’t even born when they took place.
I always take the view that we need balance. For 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the men, women and civilian staff of our police forces in Yorkshire are quietly getting it right. This unrecognised work and commitment is something very dear to me and I bend over backwards to highlight the hard work, bravery and dedication that often escapes the mainstream media.
Being open and honest to the public about getting it wrong is called “transparency”. Getting it right is an expectation that we deserve from our police service. I personally think that promoting their day to day achievements and successes is something that the police could do much better, and in my own way I try to redress the balance. Believe me, there are far more incidents of getting it right than there are of getting it wrong.
Only recently, and a matter of days after a sterling police investigation saw the conviction of the youth who murdered Leeds teacher Ann Maguire, I saw criticism in the media of how scruffy some Yorkshire police officer uniforms were. Once again the pendulum swings from good to bad in a heartbeat. Before you snipe at scruffy police officers, you must remember that the police operate in an environment of procurement and tendering for uniform and kit.
Faced with decimating cuts and huge financial constraints, it’s no surprise that their uniforms often come from the provider who bid the lowest price. You get what you pay for, as they say.
A recent example of getting it right in Yorkshire was the hugely successful Tour de France, a major policing operation not only in terms of security but also in terms of making it run safely and smoothly. Because it wasn’t a high-profile crime investigation the efforts of the police went largely unnoticed, but the fact is they were tasked with enhancing the reputation of Yorkshire.
They rose to the occasion magnificently. They excelled at dealing with people face to face, re-affirming the unique relationship that they have with the public in this country – the “tradition of trust”.
Maintaining this tradition is at the heart of the service and it is best done by visible policing which means police officers connecting with the public they serve. Swingeing cuts have led to the loss of hundreds and hundreds of police officers with yet more to come over the next few years.
It is manifestly unfeasible to expect the same level of visibility in our communities, particularly rural parts. Inevitably the village bobby and the police station in the town have nearly all but disappeared. Police chiefs are desperately trying to maintain a police presence in the rural communities with only handfuls of police officers and PCSOs.
I spoke in Cumbria recently, another rural force. A local town police station had had to be sold off and was now one of a chain of cheap and cheerful pubs. It’s almost heartbreaking. I do worry for the future of the multiple forces in their current form and wouldn’t be surprised if the next few years saw an amalgamation into one large Yorkshire region force. Although I see the benefits, my concern is that it is crucial to maintain that local link.
In 2015 and beyond I want to see greater co-operation between our four forces. Make the most of each other’s skills and assets, with the ability to move resources across borders to identify and tackle crime hotspots. We need to build up our volunteers who work with our farm watch and country watch schemes, having dedicated points of contacts within policing and having better methods of receiving and sharing intelligence, again cross-border. I’d also like to see the expansion of our special constables right across the Yorkshire forces, in particular concentrating on retention and making best use of any specialist skills they bring with them. Why have a computer expert on the books, and not have them working on complex issues such as cyber crime?
Another area which can be improved is making smarter use of social media. It’s clear to me from my own use of Twitter that I can very often find out what our police are doing in Yorkshire and elsewhere, long before it hits the mainstream media. With real police officers posting messages about what they’re doing, it brings out the human side of policing, and a better understanding of what they do.
Finally I would urge our four police crime commissioners and chief constables to place officer and staff morale at the top of the agenda. The constant bad press weighs heavily on those very men and women we turn to when things go wrong, and are often left having to make life-changing decisions.
I’m also working hard in 2015 to highlight the exceptional work the 99.9 per cent of our police service do daily. I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas.
• Mike Pannett is a retired police officer and author of A Likely Tale, Lad, published by Dalesman Publications, price £14.99.