How new police team stopped ram raiders targeting Sheffield shopping centre
From busting drug dens to tackling poaching and illegal raves, life is never dull for one of Sheffield’s newest police teams.
Sergeant Kieran Frain and his team of two PCs and four police community support officers – PCSOs – dedicated to fighting crime in the city’s north west, cover a vast beat stretching from the bustle of Hillsborough in the south up to Stocksbridge and the rolling countryside surrounding it in the north.
That means there is a huge variety to their work, from getting to grips with more rural offences like the illegal capture and killing of birds of prey to stamping out typically urban ones such as shoplifting.
“It’s not one cap fits all. You have to adapt to the different communities you’re working in and get to know them and learn about the biggest issues affecting people there,” says Kieran.
The team’s first big task after taking up their posts at the tail end of January this year was preventing ram raiders striking at the popular Fox Valley retail park in Stocksbridge, where the cycle shop Trek had just been targeted for the third time in less than a year.
The store’s owners were so frustrated they were considering leaving, explains Kieran, who says their departure would have been a big blow to the town.
The culprits were never caught but Kieran and his colleagues worked closely with the centre’s owners, Dransfield Properties, to successfully stop future attacks.
They brought in South Yorkshire Police’s ‘design out crime officer’ to conduct a detailed analysis of the park’s weak spots and how to strengthen them.
While many of the measures which were adopted must remain under wraps, to prevent giving too much away to criminals, they included the introduction of round-the-clock security and the creation of a shop watch scheme enabling retailers to better share information and advice.
“This is Trek’s flagship Yorkshire store but it was made known to us by the management team there that another break-in would seriously threaten the viability of their operation locally,” said Kieran, a 37-year-old father-of-one, who began his career with the police in Barnsley after graduating from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in law and criminology.
“Fox Valley has been brilliant for this community, effectively creating a new town centre for the north of Sheffield, and it was important we did our level best to protect something which was making such a huge contribution to the local economy.
“The partnership has been nothing short of fantastic, and the work we did with them saw us finish as runners-up at the recent force awards in the outstanding problem-solving category, which was a great accolade for such a small team.”
Kieran and co, who form the north-west branch of the force’s Sheffield Central and North West Neighbourhood Policing Team, are based out of Deepcar police station.
Their introduction – while part of a wider move back to neighbourhood policing – followed a petition signed by more than 1,500 people to get warranted officers back at the station which had largely been used in recent years as a pit stop for response officers or PCSOs working in the area.
The campaign, backed by Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith, was launched after an armed robbery at the petrol station just two doors down from the police base on Manchester Road.
Kieran says the community was glad to get back a dedicated team, which, while it may not have been able to prevent isolated crimes like the raid at the petrol station, has the time to delve deeper into issues affecting the region – whether that’s by scouring incident reports looking for trends or speaking to those affected and attending public meetings.
“I think our introduction’s given confidence back to people living in some of the city’s more rural areas, who might have felt a bit forgotten in the past, that there is someone there to listen to them,” he adds.
“As they’ve realised that not only will they be listened to but action will be taken off the back of that, the information’s started to flow.”
Despite the rural nature of much of the team’s patch, a big part of their work has been tackling the production and supply of drugs – and not always in the areas you might expect.
In April, they seized a significant amount of what is believed to be MDMA from a property in the remote area of Wigtwizzle.
The following month, they blitzed the Deer Park area of Stannington, uncovering cannabis, a hammer, a BB gun and cash at one flat which was raided.
As an ‘S6 lad’, who grew up in Wadsley and went to school in Hillsborough, Kieran admits he has been surprised by some of the leafier areas blighted by drugs.
In Stannington, it was only after officers began investigating reports of ‘anti-social’ youths hanging around homes in the area that they discovered the problem stemmed from drug dealing.
For Kieran, this proves the value of a local police team which can get to the root of problems affecting a community.
In Hillsborough last month, he explains, a man was arrested in possession of cannabis following complaints about drugs being dealt openly on the suburb’s streets – and when his home was searched, devices were seized which could hold vital evidence about the wider supply chain.
With no 101 calls having been made, Kieran says it was only thanks to PCSOs picking up on local concerns while out and about that police were able to make that breakthrough.
One of the team’s biggest successes to date has been dealing with a pair of aggressive beggars plaguing Stocksbridge, where they were also responsible for a wave of shoplifting.
Both men were prosecuted and one was made the subject of a criminal behaviour order, banning him from approaching anyone and asking for money.
“This man had been knocking on elderly people’s homes late at night asking for money, which is totally unacceptable, and his actions were causing a lot of frustration for the community,” says Kieran.
In the countryside, the team have been called on to help prevent birds of prey being persecuted, stop fish poachers operating at More Hall Reservoir and prevent off-road bikers damaging protected wildlife havens, among other crimes.
They are often required, too, to keep the peace between gamekeepers and animal rights protesters, while investigating complaints from both sides concerning traps which have been laid on the estate owners’ land.
But perhaps the biggest issue – and certainly the loudest – to rear its head in recent months is that of illegal raves popping up across the picturesque Ewden Valley in places like Bolsterstone and Bradfield.
Kieran sympathises with those kept up throughout the night by these gatherings, which he says are also dangerous for those attending and can ravage the countryside where they take place.
Police are working with the council to develop a ‘long-term response’ to the ‘emerging issue’, he says, which could include the use of community protection notices, leading to fines for those responsible.
He urged members of the public to continue to report raves as this would help police gather intelligence about those involved.