Dr. Alan Billings was born in Leicester and read Theology and Philosophy at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He has been a parish priest and an academic as well as being active in politics. (For full details go to – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Billings)
Dr. Billings had planned to return to Sheffield to retire but was elected as the S. Yorks. Police and Crime Commissioner (P.C.C.) in 2014, replacing the first Commissioner who had been a Rotherham Councillor and had held a senior position in Child Services. He resigned after a report exposed child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between the years 1997 and 2013, which Rotherham Council and S. Yorks. Police had chosen to ignore.
Police and Crime Commissioners have been elected throughout the country since 2012, to replace Police Authorities. They were made up of Local Councillors and the public, but the new posts provide a focal point. Prospective candidates are sponsored by political parties, and the Labour Party now support the scheme, although originally fearing politicisation of the posts.
The duties of a P.C.C. include producing a policy plan (reviewed annually), for policing and crime priorities, and then, to ensure that the police force follow them. There are monthly meetings with the police, press and the general public, and the P.C.C. also scrutinizes police reports. All this helps to determine what type of police force is needed and where funds are to be allocated.
The two principal sources for funds – Government 73%, Council Tax 27%, are allocated thus :-
– The police budget – 96%
– Commissioning services for victims
– Running activities for communities
The 3 priorities for policing, in the 2019 policy plan (copy available on the internet) are :-
- Protecting vulnerable people
A greater proportion of police time is spent on this subject :-
- It is predicted that by 2045 more than a third of the population will be over 60 years of age. With public services shrinking, more time is spent finding dementia patients who have wandered off.
- Children are brought from the South of England , to homes in Barnsley and Sheffield where it is cheaper to look after them. The police, rather than the homes, spend time finding those who have broken their curfew hours.
- Grooming either in person or on the internet requires more police staff in offices.
- Since 2010, police officer numbers in S. Yorks. have reduced from 3000 to 2500, but in 2019 a further 55 officers will be recruited, of which 40 will go into Neighbourhood Teams and be seen on the beat, and will be able to make arrests – a matter regularly requested by the public. Police Support Officer numbers, (introduced by David Blunkett, who dealt with anti-social behaviour), who cannot make arrests, will not be cut.
- Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour
On this matter, the P.C.C., who has no executive power, meets regularly with the Chief Constable to discuss :-
–Knife crime, (which is mainly a London problem). Incidents since 2018 in S.Yorks. are falling, discussions taking place as to why.
–Drugs. This is worrying and is linked to knife crime. Once when there were turf wars, based on post codes, the police knew the gangs, but now the gangs are underground with vulnerable young children being groomed to carry small packages for a reward. The gangs offer an ‘alternative family’ so it is essential to understand their psychology. Failure within the gang means brutal reprisals.
The 4 prisons in Doncaster have drug problems which the police are dealing with. Unintended consequences of drug legalisation, are also under consideration.
–Anti-social behaviour. S.Yorks. has a minority diverse ethnicity, unlike Leicester where the ethnic minorities are the majority. Our pit villages are white, with nothing for the children to do, so anti-social behaviour, rather than crime, is the main problem. But city centres are different, so there is more police demand. The Roma/Slovaks give problems due to cultural differences, and trafficking is a worldwide problem, with cannabis farms involving victims as well as criminals.
- Treating people fairly, whether victim, survivor, witness or suspect.
The three main ongoing costly ‘legacy’ issues for S.Yorks. police are :-
- The Hillsborough disaster
- It is the 30th The ongoing court case is paid for by Legal Aid but Civil claims are being made by around 600 people, who were affected by the tragedy.
- The Child Sexual Exploitation Case in Rotherham
- 200 extra detectives in Rotherham are seeking the 1400 alleged child victims, costing £40million/year.
£20million has been allocated for civil claims for both the above cases.
Dr. Billings has applied to the Home Office for special grants, but they still require S. Yorks. to meet £2.4m for each of the above issues.
- The Miners strike – still an issue.
For other fairness issues, Dr. Billings has set up Independent Panels such as the Ethics Panel to think through situations, e.g. ‘stop and search’ with the body camera issue.
– The P.C.C. can put proposals and opportunities to the police to consider and report on, but cannot order the Chief Constable what to do. The N.H.S., the Local Councils, etc. are also involved and all work together as a team.
Dr. Billings convinced us that he has a tough job on his hands, which he said felt ‘like turning a huge oil tanker around’, although there are notable successes.
He was heartily thanked for a very enlightening and well delivered talk.