South Yorkshire Police teams at the heart of county's communities

Preserving murder scenes, carrying out door-to-door enquiries after major incidents, tackling local crimewaves...life in a neighbourhood policing team is certainly varied.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 8:56 am

In addition to supporting response teams dealing with major incidents such as homicides, shootings and stabbings, neighbourhood teams tackle the issues that matter most to local communities.

They exist to provide a reassuring presence on the streets and to identify and deal with local crimes and issues of concern in neighbourhoods.

Their aim is to ultimately reduce crime and demand on the force by stamping out issues before they escalate out of control by preventative work and finding solutions to problems.

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The South West Neighbourhood Policing Team in Sheffield covers one of the largest geographical patches in the force and includes some of the most affluent areas of the city as well as some of the most deprived.

Gang warfare, shootings, stabbings, drug dealing, burglaries, anti-social behaviour...the police team is familiar with crime right across the spectrum.

Investigations into the most serious crimes are generally taken on by detectives with neighbourhood teams there for back up and support.

But the teams are also vital in feeding information from local communities back to those investigating major cases.

Relationships between local cops and residents can prove essential when trying to establish the background to incidents.

Inspector Louise Kent has been in charge of the South West team since June, with areas including Dore, Lowedges, Gleadless Valley and Sharrow her responsibility.

The 38-year-old, who was raised on the city’s Arbourthorne estate and is married to another officer in the force, has spent 16 years with South Yorkshire Police, with the majority of her service on the frontline.

The mum-of-two said she joined to help people and with neighbourhood policing at the heart of communities, she has found the perfect policing role.

Early in her career she was deployed to deal with a shoplifter, who had stolen items of food.

While dealing with him for the offence she established that he was living in a bail hostel, starving and penniless.

Instead of moving onto the next job on her list she spent £10 of her own money on the basics so that he could make some toast and have a cup of tea.

Without that help, that young PC knew the shoplifter would have had to steal again to survive.

“I got job satisfaction then and I still do now from helping people,” she said.

Ironically, when the officer went to pay for the groceries she realised she had left the £10 she had withdrawn in the cash machine outside. When she went to retrieve it, the cash had been stolen.

In her day-to-day role now, Insp Kent oversees officers and PCSOs addressing local issues.

If there is a spate of burglaries or car crime in a particular area, her team will focus on those – identifying suspects, increasing police patrols, raising awareness and apprehending offenders.

Community surveys and patrolling the streets also help the team establish what issues residents are most concerned about and action plans are drawn up.

Insp Kent said: “I want communities to have faith that we will look after them and tackle the issues that really matter to them.

“I want people to feel comfortable talking to us because it is really important that we know what community tensions there are, who is involved and what is going on.”

She added: “I am very proud to be a police officer feeling that we are really making a difference and doing all we can to keep people safe.”

Sergeant Ben Hanson, who is in charge of the Gleadless arm of Insp Kent’s policing team, transferred to South Yorkshire Police from Hampshire in 2014 and has already made his mark.

As a former member of the city centre policing team in Sheffield, Sgt Hanson’s work to tackle use of Spice was recognised and he and colleagues PC Libby Bettney and PC Paul Briggs were invited to America as finalists in an award ceremony honouring the very best problem oriented policing projects from around the world.

“Problem solving is my passion and I am always trying to do something a little bit different to make life better for the people in the communities we serve,” he said.

“With neighbourhood policing you get pockets of problematic behaviour and we try to address that because if conditions persist unchanged or unchallenged then that behaviour will manifest.

“We try to pull issues apart to find out what is behind them. We focus on what we can control and change and what works. If things aren’t working, we look at new ways of effecting change. It’s about challenging the status quo. Just because something has always been done, it doesn’t mean it always has to be that way.

“We take a problem oriented approach to mitigating problems. All we will ever be able to do is reduce and mitigate risk – we can never make you 100 per cent safe, but we will mitigate the risk to you as best we can and your chances of being a victim of crime at the moment have never been lower.”

Sgt Hanson joined the police partly through his experience of being a victim of crime when his student accommodation in Leeds was broken into while he was at university.

“The service we received was not very good, there was a culture of victim blaming. We were told ‘you are students, you have nice things and live in a bad area, that’s why you have been burgled’,” he said.

“I knew I did not want to sit in an office, I did not want to make someone else richer and I wanted to make a difference, so by process of elimination I applied for the police.”

Sgt Hanson said police officers are often seen as the ‘enforcement arm of the Government’ but stressed that they spend the majority of their time ‘trying to protect the most vulnerable in society’.

Police spend 30 per cent of their time dealing with domestic abuse issues and one in five incidents attended involve people with mental health issues.

“As long as I am being challenged and making positive change, I will be happy. It is knowing that an action you do or don’t do will make a significant difference to someone’s life,” he said.