About three years ago South Yorkshire Police changed the way uniformed officers were deployed across the county. The force was in a bind. Government funding was falling but demand for their services was rising. By combining response and neighbourhood teams, savings could be made and the books made to balance.
Of course, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) have remained on their patch. But the erosion of police officers dedicated to a particular place has led to a loss of visible presence, some loss of intelligence and anxieties from particular communities.
When I appointed the Chief Constable last year I asked him to put this right. He has spent several months going round South Yorkshire asking people what they want to see. The results of that consultation are now being implemented.
At meetings I have been to, people realise that neighbourhood policing cannot come back in the way it was ten years ago. The money just isn’t there for that. But there will be once again a cadre of police officers who will be getting to know a particular place and its people.
Among those police officers will be some who are very new to the force who have been part of a national recruitment scheme called Police Now.
They are all recent graduates who have been intensively trained over the summer in ‘problem solving’. Their job will be to help neighbourhood teams think about why ASB and crime happens in the first place, and to find, with partner organisations, ways of reducing it. In Sheffield they will be working in the city centre, in Page Hall, Darnall and in Burngreave. I met them recently and they are keen to get stuck into the work.
The idea of ‘problem solving’ is very simple, even if hard to do. It recognises that the police come in at the end of a chain of events that lead to ASB or crime. Can the chain be interrupted earlier?
To give a very simple example. If young people are gathering in a particular place and getting into trouble, can we work out what needs to be done to stop that? Is it about providing activities for them? Or getting better street lighting? These officers will help to figure these things out.
But neighbourhood policing has to be two-way. It can only be successful if we, the public, help the police.