FEATURE: Tough-talking new neighbourhoods police chief vows to release South Yorkshire communities from grip of criminal gangs

Assistant chief constable David Hartley.
Assistant chief constable David Hartley.
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Crime-riddled neighbourhoods will be released from the grip of the criminal gangs that control them - paving the way for residents to take back control of their own streets.

That is the key message from the new man in charge of policing South Yorkshire's neighbourhoods who has vowed to put bobbies back on the beat, smash rogue gangs making residents' lives hell and to put those responsible behind bars.

Tough-talking David Hartley has just been promoted to assistant chief constable for South Yorkshire Police and has been tasked with bringing about a return to traditional neighbourhood policing that will see more officers patrolling the streets.

And in an exclusive interview with The Star at the police headquarters in Carbrook, he wasted no time in delivering a hardline ultimatum to the city's criminal underworld.

He said: "We are getting more officers back out on the beat like it used to be."

His top policing priorities are:-

*Introducing more bobbies on the beat

*Focusing more officers in the most crime-hit areas

*Smashing criminal gangs that cause long term problems, and

*Working with the community to put an end to 'cycles of crime' passed down through generations.

Last year chief constable Stephen Watson admitted millions of pounds worth of cuts to police budgets - meaning there are around 600 less officers now than in 2010 - had led to the force 'losing touch with communities'. He vowed to make changes to get police back out there as the recognisable face of justice in our towns and cities.

Now, ACC Hartley is the man in the hot seat charged with leading the neighbourhood policing revolution. And he accepts he has got his hands full.

"This is going to be a big change, no doubt."

He accepted the current local policing system has largely not worked and that is why they are changing it.

"The way it is now we have blue light response officers who respond to emergencies based centrally around major police stations.

"We want to change that and get those officers and CID departments based in police teams locally out in communities investigating robberies, burglaries, etc. Within these teams we want to expand the number of neighbourhood officers."

South Yorkshire Police has around 2400 uniformed officers, 1500 of which are dedicated to responding to emergencies.

ACC Hartley said there was an 'imbalance' between response officers and neighbourhood officers which would be addressed in the new model.

"The idea is to reduce the number of response officers and increaese the number of neighbourhood officers. There will also be training for staff so they can be flexible between response, neighbourhood policing and investigations."

He believes moving more resources into prevention rather than reacting to problems will pay off in the long run.

"We accept that there may be a slight spike in incidents when the changes first come in, but please bear with us. If we can tackle problems downstream before they become major problems upstream then there will be less need for the emergency response element. We want to solve the underlying issues so we get long-term results."

The force will also be working more closely with other agencies, such as education and housing officers, community groups and youth workers.

"We want to have all different agencies - police, council, fire service - under one roof out in communities. So we will look at our existing police stations and also at other public buildings that we could base ourselves in."

He gave an example of how this might work in practice.

"So if you have a lad aged 14 who has fell in with a criminal gang, under the old model he might be just criminalised. But now with young people who are repeat offenders we will look at offering more educational support and help with their home life through the new neighbourhood teams so we can get long-term change instead of this cycle of crime continuing."

The force will also be embracing new technology.

He said: "We accept that just asking people to ring up 101 is perhaps outdated. In December we will be introducing an app so people can report crimes more easily, and we will be training officers to engage more with the public on Twitter and Facebook.

"Our teams will also have tablets so they can take statements and do other important tasks right from the scene."

He said the force does not have the resources to recruit and flood communities with new officers, but police will be "making the most out of what we have got."

ACC Hartley said there will be a review of where police are needed most across the county and then the teams will be deployed to those communities.

"If we discover one town or village has hardly any crime but a lot of officers covering that patch, then some of them they may be taken away and put into communities that need them more."

He said neighbourhood officers have already been deployed to areas of concern, including tackling a rising tide of anti-social behaviour in Edlington, Doncaster and response to concerns about gangs and gun crime in Shiregreen and Southey in Sheffield.

But he stressed introducing the new model will take time. Senior officers will be attending public meeting across South Yorkshire in the coming months to listen to residents concerns and 'build up a picture' of where officers are needed most. There are 12 of these meetings scheduled in the next several weeks with more planned. ACC Hartley said the new model should be fully rolled out by the end of this year.

"We are building up a picture of where we need to be. The local policing teams will be renamed and some of our officer titles will be renamed in plain English so people know who their local beat bobbies are."

ACC Hartley said it was 'not a myth' that there are less beat bobbies now than the days when he used to patrol the city centre as a young constable in the early 1990s.

But he added: "We are taking the best bits from the past and embracing new technology for a fresh approach. It will take time, but the long term benefits will be there for all to see."