As police numbers get stretched, the South Yorkshire force has to learn more and more to make strong partnerships with other agencies if it is not to be overwhelmed by the demands on it. Some of those agencies are obvious – like the other emergency services, Ambulance and Fire. Others are not at all obvious and may even be quite surprising. Earlier this year I was introduced to one of them: Street Pastors.
If you’ve never heard of them, or seen them, you may wonder what they have to do with policing, particularly if you think Street Pastors are Street Preachers. It’s true that they are all drawn from local churches, but they are not bent on some evangelistic crusade. Their task is highly practical.
Street Pastors are nocturnal: you will only see them late in the evening and until about three o’clock the following morning, chiefly on Friday and Saturday nights and mainly in town centres. The time is significant. It ‘s when people leave pubs and clubs after a night out.
As they make their way around the streets with their distinctive jackets bearing the words ‘STREET PASTOR’, they perform an invaluable service. Some who leave the pubs and clubs are a bit the worse for wear. The Street Pastors are on hand to help.
The equipment they carry is not a bundle of tracts but flip flops and bottled water. Flip flops because some of the women struggle to walk across cobbled streets or cracked pavements in their ultra high heels. The Street Pastors hand them a pair of flip flops and help them negotiate their way safely to the right bus stop or taxi stand. Others, dehydrated by an oversupply of alcohol, are only too pleased to receive a bottle of water.
Sometimes, the Street Pastors are just a friendly and helpful face. Someone to sit and talk to, a non-judgemental listening ear. It’s often in those early morning hours that people want to unburden themselves.
At other times the very presence of Street Pastors seems able to ease tensions on the street, and that stops more unpleasant situations arising that might need police intervention.
I have heard from police officers how pastors have helped over-excited inebriated people to sit down for a while, step back and think twice before launching themselves into actions they might well later regret. There is evidence that this can reduce violent offences in town centres by as much as 12 per cent.
The Street Pastors I have met are all ages, though many are well into middle age and beyond. Age doesn’t seem to matter, though they do need that inner toughness that enables you to keep smiling even when the language directed at you is pretty coarse. Training is given – in street skills. Each evening begins with prayer, and other groups pray for their work even as they walk the streets.
I salute the Street Pastors. They help the police keep the night time as safe as possible. They will be there again over Christmas.