Police in a Yorkshire city have sent out dozens of letters to the parents of young people who are at risk of joining gangs or showing other worrying behaviour.
The ‘notices of concern’ scheme in Sheffield has already seen 60 letters sent out by South Yorkshire in a bid to divert young people from a life of crime.
The force, which has been beset by a series of recent controversies, has been criticised for making changes to its neighbourhood policing which were described by inspectors as a ‘step backwards’.
A report published this week described the ‘notices of concern’ scheme as being in its early stages, and said: “Once evaluation is complete, any learning will be disseminated across the force”.
It said: “These are letters issued by police to young people, and their parents or guardians, at risk of becoming involved in gangs or other behaviour of concern.
“Social care are then informed of the individuals who receive these letters and an assessment of what interventions are need with that young person is made.
“The Fearless project supports this initiative by working with the young people to divert them from crime. Sheffield have issued 60 notices of concern since the commencement of the initiative.”
Acting Inspector Gayle Kirby from Sheffield’s dedicated antisocial behaviour (ASB) Team said: “We started issuing Notices of Concern about a year ago, after concerns about young people engaging in organised crime or putting themselves at risk of becoming involved in gangs and organised crime became a real focus for officers across Sheffield.
“This scheme is not about penalising or criminalising young people, it is very much about early intervention and working closely with that young person and their families to support them and educate them about the dangers of organised crime.
“Notices are issued when we have sufficient concerns about a child or young person, which suggests they are at risk of becoming involved in gang-related crime. We then discuss this with them and their families, drawing on the support of partner agencies and the bespoke Fearless project, to try and divert them away from any activity that puts them at risk.
“While this is a new scheme to South Yorkshire, we did look at best practice and learning from forces across the country – particularly areas with identified issues of gang-related crime. We then adapted an existing scheme to make it suitable for what we wanted to achieve, the education and safeguarding of children at risk.”
In 2015, a senior judge warned of rival gangs ‘marauding’ around the streets of Sheffield ‘wielding guns and knives’ as part of a deadly feud which claimed two lives.
High Court judge Sir Nicholas Green made the comments as he oversaw the eight-week trial into the murder of Jordan Thomas, who was shot dead as he sat in a car on Derek Dooley Way the previous year.
Details of the ‘notices of concern’ scheme were revealed in a report by the force about its performance against the police and crime plan set out by crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings.
The report said that the most recent data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, reported to the PCC late last year, showed that South Yorkshire Police’s understanding of local communities was worse than other similar forces.
The force, which had four different Chief Constables last year, was found to be significantly lower than the national average for levels of community understanding and dealing with community priorities.
Changes made in 2015 meant that teams of local beat bobbies were merged with response units in what became known as ‘local policing teams’ (LPTs).
But inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said last week that officers were regularly being called away to cover other duties, meaning they did not have time to patrol locally, engage with residents or solve problems in communities around South Yorkshire.
The HMIC report said: Because of the need to answer demand from response policing the current LPT structure in South Yorkshire Police is becoming disconnected from neighbourhood policing.”
South Yorkshire Police’s latest report said neighbourhood inspectors were initially supposed to be the point of contact for the local community, and working with them to tackle local problems and address anti-social behaviour.
Extra officers have been deployed to carry out neighbourhood policing in recent months, and according to the force have issued 37 criminal behaviour orders to to tackle the behaviour of ‘problem individuals’.
Last month, responding to a fatal shooting of a 23-year-old man in Sheffield, Dr Billings said he was worried about innocent members of the public getting caught up in city gang wars.
He said: “There are clearly issues about guns and gangs in Sheffield but in terms of the scale I don’t think the issues here are comparable with other big cities, but it is something we have to watch and keep an eye on.
“I am satisfied that the police are on top of it here as much as they can be but the disturbing thing recently is that guns are being used on the streets and therefore although incidents may be inter-gang issues there is always the possibility that innocent members of the public can be caught up in it.”
It emerged yesterday that a teenage boy was attacked by a gang of youths who followed him in Doncaster.
The 14-year-old was set upon in Urban Road, Hexthorpe, at around 7.10pm on March 4. He was treated by paramedics at the scene.
A police investigation is underway. Witnesses or anyone with information should call South Yorkshire Police on 101.