Julia Hartley-Brewer clashed with the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner over the force’s policy to encourage people to report ‘non-crime’ hate incidents, dubbing it the “hurty feelings helpline”.
The police force was called "Orwellian" on social media after it posted a tweet telling people to report incidents of ‘non-crime’ hate, but Dr Alan Billings said the policy had been in place for around two years.
It was reiterated on Twitter after an incident in Barnsley on Saturday (September 8), in which a woman ran through the town centre wielding a knife.
Knife attack in Barnsley
The was speculation online about the nature of the attack, but police said they could “definitively confirm” it was not terrorism, and asked the public to “stop reinforcing the rumour that there were multiple people involved”.
“The reason this arose is because we had an incident in Barnsley on Saturday, somebody wielding a knife who was a member of an ethnic minority community,” said Dr Billings.
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“Rumours spread around about what was going on, there were hints about terrorism and so on.
“That produced a lot of racist language on social media, a lot of rumours flying about in the town, and some members of the community in that town were deeply affected by that and felt they were under threat.”
'If it's not a crime, it's not your business!'
The tweet sent by South Yorkshire Police
“So the stuff [comments] that may be criminal, you may want to investigate,” said Hartley-Brewer.
“The stuff that’s not, none of your business! People have the right to express their opinion in this country the last time I looked.”
“People have a total right to express their opinion, but if that leads them to a non-crime incident that may become a criminal incident…”
“No, how does someone sending a tweet - it may be a tweet that you would never write, it may be a tweet that I would never write, it may be a tweet that I read and think, oh, they sound like a nasty piece of work - if it’s not a crime, it’s none of your bloody business!” Hartley-Brewer shot back.
Crime rise in South Yorkshire
Watch: Julia Hartley-Brewer challenges Dr Billings over crime rates in South Yorkshire
Dr Billings said the policy intended to build trust between the community and the police force, but Hartley-Brewer used the Hillsborough and Rotherham grooming scandals as examples as to how police had lost trust.
“Let’s look at the Hillsborough incident, that caused a lack of trust…
“The Rotherham child rape gang. There are now 98 separate investigations into the failures of police officers to deal with this.
“Do you not think there’ll be a lot of people in the South Yorkshire area, the communities you speak so much about, who might prefer it if the police spent their time investigating gang rape of teenage girls rather than people whose feelings are hurt on Twitter?”
“If it’s a case of either or, then of course,” Dr Billings began to reply, before Hartley-Brewer cut him off.
“It is a case of either or, you don’t investigate all the crimes that are committed,” she said. "Don’t you think once you’ve sorted out all the actual crimes, then you might have time to deal with the non crimes?”
She cited a report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, that found South Yorkshire Police was failing to record one in 10 crimes reported to them.
ONS figures showed that South Yorkshire saw a 34% rise in all reported crimes except fraud last year, but national data showed crime to be stabilising.
However, the ONS points out that different types of crime are not captured in overall figures, and that a rise in the number of crime reports does not necessarily mean crime levels has increased.
“No, because I think these are things that are affecting the police in policing on a daily basis. It’s very important the trust between police and our communities is re-established,” said Dr Billings.
“The trust will be re-established when you investigate, record, and deal with a solve the crimes that are actually being committed!” Hartley-Brewer argued.
She went on to quiz Dr Billings on whether a police officer would be dispatched to a burglary if a ‘non-crime’ had also been reported, to which he said the call handler taking the reports would decide which to prioritise.
"Would it depend on how hurt their feelings were?" she snapped. Dr Billings laughed said: "No".
He said the burglary would take precedence, but added that in a case where the burglar was no longer in the property, “due to cuts, it’s not possible to send a police officer every time there’s been a burglary.”
“It’s not possible to send a police officer every time there’s been a burglary, but we’re going to ask the public to report non-crime hate incidents that will use up police time?” Hartley-Brewer asked.
“Yes, because as I keep repeating, there are people in our communities that need to trust the police,” Dr Billings replied.
She ended the conversation by saying she was “flabbergasted”.