Police chiefs to study impact of decision to return bobbies to the beat

Alan Billings, police commissioner for South Yorkshire
Alan Billings, police commissioner for South Yorkshire

POLICE chiefs at a Yorkshire force are to review how a decision to return officers to the beat is affecting its performance in other areas.

South Yorkshire Police has been through a chaotic period with a U-turn on a decision by former chief constable David Crompton to scrap its neighbourhood policing teams because of strained police finances.

It was a widely unpopular decision, blamed for the service losing contact with the communities it serves, and when current chief constable Stephen Watson took over, he decided to put hundreds of officers back on the beat.

The service has fewer staff than under the previous arrangement but is intended to restore the links between police and residents.

However, no additional money has been available for the changes, meaning officers joining neighbourhood duties have had to be switched from other parts of the force.

The new teams have been introduced over the last few months and are now all operating, with the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, a body which examines the work of Police and

Crime Commissioner Alan Billings, told a review to assess the impact of the changes will take place shortly.

When asked whether other areas of the force were now suffering, Dr Billings told the panel: “The officers have clearly had to come from somewhere. There isn’t a growth in total numbers of officers.”

He said he accepted that switching officers from other duties would be felt elsewhere in the force but said: “Hopefully, that will be manageable.”

The new neighbourhood teams are focused on problem-solving and preventative work, Dr Billings said, adding: “We hope it will make some sort of difference, but time will tell.”

But the panel’s chairman, Coun Abdul Khayum, warned that the new teams appeared to be developing in different ways in different areas.

He said in Sheffield’s Firth Park area, they were regularly in touch with their local inspector.

He said: “Certainly, there is more engagement between the neighbourhood policing team and the local community. It seems to be going pretty well for us.”

On the other hand, Councillor David Hughes, of Doncaster Council, said: “In my area I have not seen many boots on the ground and I have not seen one PCSO in my village since the review came out.”

The new neighbourhood teams are based in ‘hubs’ which also accommodate other public sector workers they are likely to come into contact with, such as mental health workers.

Forces across Yorkshire appear to be redicovering the benefits of having officers embedded in communities. Last month, West Yorkshire Police revealed a renewed focus on having a visible presence on the streets, while North Yorkshire Police’s frontline policing drive has been running for nearly a decade.