By South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings
NORMALLY, at this time of year, I would be out and about in Rotherham meeting many individuals and groups.
I would be asking about how South Yorkshire Police were doing and what their priorities should be for the year ahead.
I do this every year as I draw up the police budget and set the police precept — one part of the council tax.
But this year, as a result of the coronavirus, things have been different.
I have met a few community groups and picked up a few things.
Also, by chance, as an Anglican priest, I have been taking occasional services in two Rotherham churches — St James Clifton and St Mary Magdalene Whiston — while they were without a vicar.
But saying a fleeting good morning to people in face masks is hardly a proper conversation.
So I have been relying on the results of an online survey we have been running across South Yorkshire as a whole.
So far, the results have shown broad support for the police and for some increase in the precept to fund extra officers.
Then, more recently, I have been meeting people on Zoom calls and learning things that way — because crime changes during a lockdown.
Last week, for instance, some concerned residents spoke to me and a chief inspector about thefts from vehicles in their area.
Some people with a drug addiction are finding it more difficult to fund their habits from burglaries.
They draw attention to themselves during lockdown if they are on the streets in the small hours, and during the day many people are now at home.
So they are breaking into vehicles to steal what they can — in broad daylight.
Anything lying on a back seat, however low in value, is taken, though the most lucrative finds are from vans — the tools of tradesmen and women.
The thieves attack and get on their way quickly, so it is smaller items they are after.
On my Zoom call, residents gave a lot of local intelligence and in turn they received good advice from the officer together with a promise to meet the new threat from vehicle crime in their area.
As a result, I have decided to offer anyone who wants to talk via Zoom the chance to do so with some pre-planned slots over the coming weeks and months.
We are just in the process of setting these up and they will be advertised on my website as well as social media accounts — keep your eye out and if you have any issues you want to raise with me about policing and criminal justice in your area please sign up.
Perhaps the virus has taught me a new way of engaging with Rotherham residents.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner