Standing on the edge of history
I THINK I’d definitely call it a busy week end – make that phrenetic.
Weeks of muscle-strengthening exercises in the kitchen ended with me doing my ’15 minutes of fame’ – in a sponsored row against my fellow police and crime chiefs in aid of Children In Need on Friday at Stafford which raised more than £4,000.
Then it was a mad dash and burning the midnight oil for a little piece of history in the making.
I went to Stone and my visit as the first lady speaker in three centuries to address the Association for the Prosecution of Felons reminded me of the famous Stone of Scone (used by firstly Scottish and later English, British and UK monarchs down the ages in the coronation ceremony).
History may not have been one of my best subjects at school but they say time is a great healer – and I’ve spent the last 30 or so years making sure I caught up with events of the past which in turn have helped me shape my future and deal with its effects.
One thing’s for sure – on Friday night I found myself in wonderful company surrounded by members of an organisation steeped in history themselves who set the tenor for, and was indeed, the forerunner of Tamworth MP Sir Robert Peel’s world-famous Metropolitan Police Force.
As the deputy police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire – filling in for an otherwise-engaged police and crime commissioner Matthew Ellis – I saw the invitation to the ‘all male’ association as a unique honour – hoping it wouldn’t end with the ‘vote of thanks’ in the vein afforded by Britain’s greatest leader, and incidentally my all-time hero, Sir Winston Churchill to Lady Astor when he told our nation’s first female MP that while he was drunk, in the morning he would be sober while she sadly would still be ugly.
A young Margaret Thatcher – later to be the UK’s first woman prime minister – fared no better when Churchill told her in the Commons: If I were your husband I’d put poison in your coffee.
I told the audience that there must have been some gentlemen among them who in hindsight would have dreamed of Sir Denis administering the coup de grace long before Michael Heseltine and the boys got their catapults out on that fateful day in November 1990 to remove our greatest 20th century peacetime PM from office!
I reckon the fairer sex have come a long way since Gaohou seized power from her son to become the first female ruler of China in 195 BC.
Certainly it’s true in Staffordshire where both the number twos in policing terms – deputy chief constable Jane Sawyers and myself as police and crime deputy commissioner – are WOMEN.
Unlike the 1980s pop duo the Eurythmics – made up of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox – I do not subscribe to the belief “that behind every great man, there’s a great woman” or even that “in these times of change, sisters are comin’ out of the kitchen and doin’ it for themselves.”
Rather I’m a firm advocate that “we will all be better off if we can learn to elicit the best of each other, regardless of our gender.”
Certainly we can learn a lot from our past and crime is no different in that respect.
Justice is a sometimes lop-sided, curious object. For it was King Richard III – depicted as the villainous, murdering hunch-back in Shakespeare’s famous play of the same name whose remains were found last year in a Leicester car park – who amazingly introduced bail in January 1484 to PROTECT suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time.
Yet it took another 300 years before the Stone association was formed to PROTECT the very people who found themselves and their business property at the mercy of the wrong doers – the innocent target of burglars, thieves and robbers.
The business leaders who formed the 18th century association offered a “pledge of protection” to any informer who could shed light on trespasses, robbery and damage to houses, factories and pastures. With no police force to protect witnesses in a close-knit community, informers could easily become “uneasy” about their role.
So why did it take so long for justice to be meted out to the victims?
Now at least business owners and directors can expect “more relief” from a new pilot scheme being rolled out by the county’s ground-breaking Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner – through a new deal of “computer innovation, communication and customer consideration” in the “brave new world” of an unfettered county police force.
Fraud alone costs companies in this country £9.1 billion. Businesses are going under as a result of crime.
And yet only 10 per cent of business crime is ever reported to the police – which in part is certainly due to a lack of confidence that anything will be done about it.
Who supports them when they going through this trauma? Businesses have different needs to individuals who, in the main, are treated well by the authorities in the aftermath of a crime.
With the introduction of our pilot scheme, we are determined that firms’ owners and directors should be better served when they find themselves victims of business crime.
Some 276,000 crimes have cost county businesses nearly £433 million in theft, damage and consequential loss at a rate of more than £7,000 an hour, latest statistics, gathered over a seven-year period, reveal.
Remember crime is expensive to, and for, the business community – and it’s our duty to look after the economy when it is under attack.”
Businesses deserve a proper customer service level from the police with reporting methods that make sure call centres handle inquiries effectively and efficiently
This Friday just gone may have been important to the nation as Children In Need Day 2013 (and I’d done my bit towards it but it will go down in history as the day 12 months ago that the UK population went to the polls to vote in a new tier of police and crime commissioners for the first time.
It’s happy first birthday to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner . . .
We may not be part of the police and the OPCC doesn’t run the police force on a daily basis, but commissions policing services from the chief constable who is directly employed by the commissioner and answerable to him.
The OPCC decides how much council tax people will pay towards community safety services and policing and is personally accountable for all the public money spent.
Our aim is simple . . . with expertise and using new skills, the Office of the PCC will mean millions of pounds of public money will be saved each year through smarter and professional purchasing, commissioning and more effective use of technology.
The early, and brand new, savings identified by the PCC will be partly used to meet national savings required but also used for front line officers – meaning fewer will be lost than before the PCC came to Office.
There is a “wind of change” emanating from our corridors – bringing fresh ideas to ensuring joined up, greater value criminal justice and policing services across the county.
Two years ago a deputy police chief got up to tell the same organisation about cutting budgets to balance the books, freezing recruitment and retiring expensive top brass.
Well, I was able to tell the association on Friday, we’ve used innovation rather than intervention as a watchword for motivation and moving forward.
The scrapping of the infamous Regulation A19, which has seen in the region of 150 Staffordshire officers forced to retire since the beginning of 2011, now allows the force to hold on to its most experienced and talented officers.
At the same time a three-year recruitment freeze for new officers was ended. Some 30 recruits will come on board, even though the county force budget has to save £38.7m.
We are a statutory body given the responsibility for reducing crime and making sure the area they represent – the equivalent of 12 parliamentary constituencies in Staffordshire’s case – is a safer place and everything that happens contributes to individuals and communities feeling reassured.
Although crime is falling, fear of crime is increasing. This impacts on communities as well as individuals and their quality of life. It’s a serious problem.
With the Office for National Statistics expecting to see the UK population mushroom by 10 million to 73.3 million by the middle of 2037 – and the number of people aged 80 and over is expected to more than double to six million by that date – we want to look after a growing army of the vulnerable with a determined and joined-up plan to fill those gaps in the Neighbourhood Watch profile in Staffordshire. We want more volunteers to join the community safety family.
And my vision for Neighbourhood Watch includes building secure confident communities where ‘The Police are the Public and ‘The Public are the Police’.
I want to see the Office of the PCC put up hundreds of WANTED posters across the county as we instigate a massive recruitment drive that enlists the help of Tamworth’s most famous crime-fighting politician to keep homeowners and businesses across Staffordshire safe in the 21st century.
New village and district champions should be sought to build secure, confident communities – by returning to the values laid down by the Victorian Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel.
We’re especially looking towards the younger generation for help in this direction (and we’ve made a fantastic start in finding future responsible citizens of tomorrow with the launch of two 30-strong units of our new Staffordshire Police Cadet Service here in Stafford and Cannock (plus one ready to go next month for Stoke North).
I was able to tell the association that crime has fallen to the lowest level since records began in 1981 despite police budget cuts which has seen officer levels fall for the fourth consecutive year, stirring up fears that neighbourhood policing risks being “eroded”.
But our Office’s determination to bring in hi-tech solutions to modern policing means a greater proportion of remaining resources can be dedicated to the front line.
More can be achieved with less . . . and the evidence shows it is possible to cut costs while improving public confidence.
Like Arnie – police and crime commissioner Matthew Eillis will be back for the association dinner next year, I’m sure.
For me, this lady’s not for turning and hoping to bowl over a few MCC members with my next speech at Lord’s!