Police chief hails drop in crime but warns of challenges ahead

CRIME has fallen in South Yorkshire according to the latest statistics but senior officers acknowledge they face a "major challenge" to match figures from safer areas of the country.

South Yorkshire Police has been judged one of the four most improved forces in England and Wales by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) over the past 12 months.

It was also judged the force showing "the greatest prospect for improvement" and achieved a 13 per cent reduction in overall crime compared with a national decrease of eight per cent.

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But Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt will warn members of the county's police authority, which oversees the work of the force, the success must be a springboard for more work.

In a report to be presented to the authority on Friday, Mr Holt makes it clear that South Yorkshire Police have had an extremely successful year compared with colleagues elsewhere.

The force has seen the fourth largest reduction in crime of all forces across the country, and with the second largest reduction under the crime heading "violence against person".

It has also seen the seventh largest reduction nationwide in house burglaries and the sixth biggest drop in car thefts after a dedicated operation to tackle the problem was launched. But Mr Holt says that vigilance is required, because recent figures show that burglary has seen a slight increase in recent months and could continue to rise in difficult economic times.

Gun crime has also risen by seven per cent, although the force says the number of firearms offences involving young people had fallen by half in the past three years.

Mr Holt adds: "Despite the excellent progress seen in the last 12 months, South Yorkshire Police had the seventh highest crime rate per 10,000 population, so there is still a major challenge.

"Serious acquisitive crime reductions have continued into 2010/11, currently 10 per cent less compared to the same period last year against a target of five per cent.

"The focus on vehicle crime has contributed to a successful 16 per cent reduction, however the current area of concern is burglary which is showing a two per cent increase."

Under what is called the Police Report Card, all forces in the country are judged by HMIC against a set of criteria which not only includes crime figures but other areas of service.

Mr Holt said these included public confidence, which according to inspectors has seen an increase, community safety, which includes reducing traffic collisions and tackling terrorism.

According to HMIC figures, criminal damage has been reduced by 20 per cent, or 1,804 offences, in the last 12 months, and all areas of the county are showing "good reductions" on road casualties. Customer satisfaction figures collected show no change from previous years, with the force still registering an 83.5 per cent satisfaction rating.

Other areas for concern include the failure to hit a target of answering 90 per cent of 999 calls within 10 seconds, and 90 per cent of non-emergency calls within 30 seconds. However, figures show that the targets were narrowly missed, with 999 staff answering 85.2 per cent of the 88,864 emergency calls made in the first five months of the year within 10 seconds.

Mr Holt will also warn members of the authority about funding at Friday's meeting, and his report says: "There remains the ongoing issue of how decisions taken around funding will affect performance and out ability to meet current and future targets.

"The key risk to the organisation should crime levels increase significantly is a reduction in public confidence, leading to reduced co-operation and engagement, with the public not coming forward as witnesses or reporting crime."