In his capacity as chair of the Independent Custody Visiting Association, the Commissioner wrote to the Home Office, the Home Affairs Select Committee and local MPs to call for further scrutiny, research and guidance before the further roll out of spit guards to frontline officers.
Having served as a police officer, the Commissioner has experienced the vile act of spitting and biting first hand. The principle that police officers and staff should not be spat at is beyond dispute; but what remains open to question is whether spit guards are the best method through which to ensure that this is effectively and safely achieved.
Questions raised included:
•What alternatives are available?
•What measures are in place to ensure appropriate use with regards to vulnerable detainees?
•How should officers alter tactics between a detainee spitting at the point of arrest and a person spitting in custody?
•Why are different forces using different equipment?
•Could tougher sentencing be considered to act as a stronger deterrent to spitting?
•What do other organisations that face such a threat do?
•Why are spit guards not also used in the NHS, Prison Service or Europe?
The Commissioner backed the campaign for legislative change to make sex and relationship education compulsory in all schools in England.
Acting upon the advice of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) and others, Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening confirmed in March 2017 that this education will be put on a statutory footing by 2018.
Previously, schools that are not under local authority control - academies, free schools and private schools, of which Dorset has many - have not been obligated to teach sex and relationship education. Children attending schools that are under local authority control need only receive biology lessons to tick the box.
What this means in practice is that children’s conceptions of ‘normal’ relationships are being shaped, or perhaps misshaped, by what they experience at home, what they see online and what their peers deem to be acceptable.
This leaves children in a vulnerable position. Where child sexual abuse occurs, the perpetrators in 90% of cases are known to the victim and over half are family members.
The evidence demonstrates that pupils that receive PSHE lessons are more likely to report abuse and have consenting relationships. This is why we must do all we can to ensure children recognise inappropriate relationships as soon as they begin to develop and get the support and early intervention they need.
The Home Office launched a new #knifefree campaign to reduce knife crime among young people on 23 March 2018.
We’re seeing an upward trend in offences involving a knife or sharp instrument being recorded by police nationally. While overall numbers locally are low, we must get to grips with the issue.
PCC Martyn Underhill, who has previously supported local charities to educate young people around the risks of carrying bladed weapons, issued a blog explaining his views on the matter.
He said: "While we are fortunate to live in a county infrequently affected by knife crime, a significant proportion of the incidents we do see are related to domestic abuse.
"We need to change mind-sets on a number of levels and learn from the successes seen in Scotland where knife crime is viewed through a public health lens, which recognises that we must change attitudes towards violence more generally."
For the Commissioner's full views, click to read his blog piece.
In February 2018, the PCC marked National Sexual Abuse and Violence Awareness Week with a visit to the Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre (DRCSC).
DRCSC began in the late eighties as a helpline for women and girls, but has evolved into a centre providing services to men, women, children and young people. It has had to develop in order to meet increasing demand, and OPCC funding has recently been secured for another Children and Young Person’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA).
Independent Sexual Violence Advisors offer practical and emotional support to individuals who have been affected by sexual violence, and their families. They offer advice on issues such as criminal justice procedures, witness statements, accessing special measures and informing victims about the progress of their case. They will assist in building a support network for individuals, including signposting family members to appropriate services and attending meetings with other agencies including GPs or housing.
PCC Martyn Underhill continued: “I am passionate about this area, so I was pleased when DRCSC approached my office to fund this post as the need is clearly there. Demand is increasing, particularly as we work to educate young people on healthy relationships and consent while also raising awareness of the support services available.”
If you have experienced sexual violence, or if you know someone who has, there are many organisations that can help. Visit www.dorsetforyou.com/dvahelp for details, or call Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre on 01202 308855 or The Shores on 01202 552056. In an emergency – if a crime is in progress or life is in danger – please dial 999.