A policing ‘leap of faith’ to introduce neighbourhood officers in Barnsley has proved so successful the project is to be reviewed again in a move which may see even more staff directed into the work.
The system of officers working directly with communities was scrapped across South Yorkshire under a previous regime to save money but that was recognised as a mistake, with neighbourhood officers re-introduced.
Barnsley was the first area to benefit from the change and has already seen numbers increase from the original allocation – a move possible only because neighbourhood staff have prevented so much demand falling on colleagues on ‘reactive’ duties – answering 999 calls – that some of those have been spared to expand the preventative work.
That has enabled the force to re-open Cudworth police station, with its own neighbourhood policing unit, and it has now emerged a further review of the system is planned, which may lead to a further expansion of the neighbourhood team.
Officers would be switched from responding to emergencies to make the numbers fit, so it can only happen if calculations prove neighbourhood work has continued to dull the demand on officers.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts told a meeting of Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings’ Public Accountability Board: “We would have officers going to the same thing ten times.
“Maybe we will have officers going twice and neihgbourhood officers then go and ask why we are coming back.
“They do the problem solving, they will look at things in terms of a long term approach.
“If you had said we will take 30 or 35 people off response (for neighbourhood work), staff would have said it was impossible, but we have done it,” he said.
The development was the start of “a virtuous cycle” he said.
Dr Billings commented that the move must have been a “scary decision” and Mr Roberts explained: “We are satisfied with the logic. We need people like (district commander Chief Supt) Scott Green to hold their nerve and stick to the plan, so people come with us.
“We have every confidence it is the right approach, it is just a case of getting the balance right between numbers. We have done it in a systematic way to underpin the theory.”
Chief Supt Green told the meeting police in Barnsley had experienced a period of “sustained and unprecedented demand” earlier this year, with a combination of labour intensive incidents including four homicides in a short period of time.
“Under the previous operating model we would have struggled to cope with that extraordinary demand,” he said.
Introducing neighbourhood officers had “in effect been a leap of faith”.
In 12 months time, the intention is to review it again, so we can either take some more out (of response teams) or we can’t,” he said.
Barnsley has seen a dramatic improvement in crime levels in the last two years, with around 100 fewer domestic burglaries each month.
Although the county has a relatively high burglary rate in the national league table, around half of those in Barnsley involve break-ins at garden sheds, which are regarded as less damaging to victims than having their homes raided.