A South Yorkshire community left in the grip of a notorious organised crime gang is returning to normality following intensive policing work over an extended period which has seen both key criminals jailed and measures introduced to protect youngsters from being drawn into offending.
The so-called Pitsmoor Shotta Boys group, which originated in Sheffield, took a hold in the Doncaster community of Mexborough after several members were rehoused there during a period when South Yorkshire Police was in a state of flux, without the old fashioned neighbourhood officers who would normally have identified problems early and helped organise a response.
The PSB, as the gang was known, were involved in serious drug dealing but lower level members were also involved in widespread anti-social behaviour problems which left residents in fear and, in some cases, public servants unwilling to operate in some parts of the town – meaning some streets were left unswept because workers were left in fear.
Police have relied on old fashioned tactics of high profiling patrolling and taking action wherever possible to crack down on the problems and they believe around threequarters of known gang members have now either been jailed or are currently going through the justice system.
The process has seen more than 100 homes in the area raided, sometimes with spectacular results such as the recovery of five guns, and has seen anti social behaviour problems slump by around two thirds from the height of the problems to current rate of fewer than one a day.
The results are being credited to the success of re-localising South Yorkshire Police, which had seen its neighbourhood policing teams scrapped and CID offices centralised as cost-saving measures.
Detectives are now working back in communities across the county and that has allowed investigators to get to grips with the major criminals involved in the PSB, figures who are always more difficult to prosecute because they are not involved in street-level crime.
While enforcement has increased, prevention work has been left in the hands of neighbourhood officers and colleagues in other public bodies which are now working increasingly close to prevent vulnerable youngsters from getting involved in crime.
Overt police patrols were focused on a knot of streets where problems were at their worst as senior officers began to wrestle with the problem, using hand-picked officers with the skills and experience to spot opportunities to take action, even when the prospects of success appeared slim.
In fact, such low-key incidents on occasion provided the breakthroughs needed to make arrests for major crimes.
Four specialist teams have been working in the area, two uniformed squads with expertise in rapid entry to premises and search skills, working alongside two CID teams with an understanding of dealing with organised criminals elsewhere in the county.
Doncaster’s policing district commander, Chief Supt Shaun Morley, said: “Mexborough is now back in the hands of the community, rather than the PSB. They are on the back foot.
“I will not rest until we have removed their criminality from the streets of Mexborough.
“It is going back to the core principles of policing, using police ethically and appropriately but proactively to tack head on organised criminality.”
Tactics have include making widespread use of police powers to stop and search, something more usually associated with inner city communities rather than former mining towns, but which has proved effective.
Det Insp Steve Smith has been involved in operational side of policing in Mexborough said officers had been working with the community to develop improved levels of trust and that had extended as far as escorting witnesses who might otherwise feel intimidated to court hearings.
Having willing witnesses at court resulted in one offender making a guilty plea, with a ten year sentence for his crimes, an outcome which “sent shockwaves” through the criminal community, he said.
“It put down a benchmark as to where their criminality is,” he said.
Changes this year will see South Yorkshire Police expand officer numbers by around 40, with almost half of those to be allocated to Doncaster, with the neighbourhood team covering Mexborough to be doubled from eight to 16 strong, offering further opportunities for work both dismantle criminal gangs and to prevent offenders from becoming established.
The problems in Mexborough have been highlighted in reports to South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings, who is also keen to see the senior command team remodel their finances to make more cash available for front line officers