Beggars part of organised gangs earn up to Â£200 a day in Sheffield city centre
Some street beggars in Sheffield city centre are part of organised gangs duping people into believing they are homeless.
The force said the city has some genuine homeless people who have resorted to begging to survive, but that gangs are preying on the generosity of Sheffielders and planting people around the city centre to dupe kindhearted passers-by into believing they do not have a roof over their head.
Dealing with beggars is high on the list of priorities for the new City Centre Neighbourhood Policing Team, which has been set up to find long-term solutions to issues blighting life for visitors, residents and workers.
The team is one of four set up in areas of high demand for South Yorkshire Police with a view to finding unique solutions to unique problems, with police chiefs accepting that what might solve an issue in one community might not have the same impact in another.
Inspector Matt Collings, who runs the new team, said South Yorkshire Police and partners want members of the public to avoid donating cash to beggars on the streets but to give it to charities and organisations instead who can support and help those in genuine need.
"Begging is not unique to Sheffield but it is an issue and like many places we have seen an increase in it," he said.
"There is not one answer to solving it, there needs to be a partnership approach involving a number of organisations.
"There also isn’t only one type of beggar, but a wide spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who genuinely find themselves on the streets and in need of support, but at the other end we believe there are those who are part of organised gangs and who can earn Â£100 to Â£200 begging per day.
"Enforcement plays a part in dealing with begging, but it is also not the sole answer and it needs to be done carefully. Most successful prosecutions result in fines, making it hard for those who are genuinely homeless to break the cycle, so it is important we continue to strengthen our ties with partners in the council and homeless charities, to ensure that appropriate enforcement is combined with the support that is on offer around the city. There really is some excellent work being done that the public are probably unaware of, and there are some genuinely inspiring stories about those who have turned their lives around.
"While, as a partnership, we continue to work to improve our approach to the issue, I believe the public have a big part to play in reducing the begging in Sheffield. While I fully understand the desire to help those who appear less fortunate, by giving to those begging, it can make it more difficult for the support agencies to successfully engage them, and ultimately help their situation. That is why we would ask the public instead to support the charities and organisations who offer that support. With regards to the beggars who see this more as an easy income, ultimately, if it was not as lucrative they would not be as keen to sit on the streets of Sheffield."
As a policing district, it is one of the most diverse in Sheffield, with city centre businesses, residential areas and the bars and clubs all nestled side by side.
And as the clock ticks during the day, the priorities for the team have to change with each passing hour.
During the day officers know thefts, street drinking and begging are an issue in areas such as the Devonshire Quarter, Fitzalan Square and Haymarket, but then the anti-social behaviour often moves to other areas of the city later in the day and early evening.
At night the team has revellers in bars and clubs to contend with, drug dealers they attract and associated crime.
Insp Collings said he wants people in the city centre to feel safe.
"Sheffield is a safe city compared to other similar cities and we want to do everything we can to keep it that way," he added.
"We will have regular operations concentrating on specific issues and there will be a lot of work with partners too looking at what we can do together.
"Ultimately, it is our responsibility to tackle crime, but again in this area of policing, there is a lot the public can do"
He said around one quarter of all city centre crimes could be prevented if people stepped up their security.
"Nobody deserves to be a victim of crime but I believe that most of the public would be genuinely surprised about how many burglaries involve flats and houses being left insecure, how many car crimes involve insecure vehicles or expensive items left on display and how many phone thefts occur when people put them down on park benches or on tables in pubs, making them easy to snatch.
"Even with 15 years service in the police, I was genuinely shocked when I came to this role in May and looked through the daily crime reports. I believe that just that little bit of extra vigilance could wipe out one quarter of crime in the city centre, which would reduce demand and free up more officers to do preventative work to reduce demand even further."
He said the aim of new neighbourhood police teams it to tackle small problems early enough to prevent them becoming bigger issues.
"The move towards neighbourhood policing is a positive step towards trying to be more pro-active and trying to reduce demand. It will be a hard transition though. We are taking officers out of already stretched response teams - those who go out to the 999 calls - but we believe by tackling small problems early on before they become big problems, this will eventually reduce demand.
"The lower the demand then the more people we can have problem solving and preventing crime in the first place."
In January, officers will move into nearby Broomhall and Upperthorpe, with police chiefs aware of a lack of visibility in the areas over recent years.
"We have not been present in these communities as we should have been for some time and Broomhall and Upperthorpe are areas that if you do not police proactively then things can fester, communities can get frustrated and that's when you get issues," said Insp Collings.
"I am keen to change things and in the first month when we are up and running the key priority for officers will be to get out and about, be visible and to start building relationships to help bring a sense of trust back. We need to be looking at long term issues not just responding to what is happening in these communities on a day to day basis."