Public crime meetings suspended as authorities review the way police operate in Penistone
Meetings intended to give the public a voice on crime and policing issues in a rural district of Barnsley have been scrapped after being deemed ineffective by organisers, though consultations to find an alternative have been promised.
Police and Communities Together meetings have been operating for years in South Yorkshire, with the force and Barnsley Council jointly running monthly PACT meetings in Penistone.Recent meeting have attracted an audience around five times historic levels in recent months, following crime problems and perceptions of drug and anti social behaviour problems in the district.However, the most recent meetings have become fraught – leading to a decision to postpone one due to take place on Thursday, April 4 while consultations take place to find an alternative formula.According to details released by South Yorkshire Police, they are also looking more widely to review “engagement, visibility and problem solving” in the area.The announcement stated: “Our PACT meetings are intended to give us the opportunity to identify local issues and formulate a joint response between the police, council and other partners.
“We appreciated the time the public devote to ensuring their community and area is a safer, more enjoyable place to live and work.
“Currently, the meeting are not effectively dealing with these aims and we are keen to look at ways in which we can understand local concerns that affect communities the most.”
The announcement has brought a mixed reaction in the area. Coun David Griffin, who represent the Penistone West ward and has taken a keen interest in crime and trying to get a public counter opened by volunteers for the police station, said: “I’m sorry to hear that our PACT meeting has been cancelled. But I’m not surprised.
“The past two meetings have shown how much frustration and anger there is over local crime, particularly by those who suffered from it.
“We need some other way of working with the police to make our town and villages feel safer and to improve our confidence in local policing.
“We need to get behind our cops. I hope a re-invigorated PACT will have this purpose. Community and police working together with realistic expectations of what they can achieve with a slashed budget,” he said.
Penistone lost all its locally based police and then PCSOs due to austerity cuts several years ago, but now has a PCSOs and a constable based in the town and another PC to be based there this year.
Further neighbourhood support comes from colleagues working from Kendray, but that means they are based several miles away and has been a source of criticism in the area, with repeated demands for a stronger local presence.
The area is a challenge for police because it covers a large area with a scattered population, making patrolling difficult and farmers have set up their own warning systems to help guard against criminals who focus on the area for high value items such as quad bikes.
Despite those problems, the district still has a relatively low crime rate compared to other parts of the borough, but fear of crime among residents also appears high, according to research carried out by Coun Griffin over the last three years.
Businessman David Wood has raised the issue of drug abuse in Penistone at different times in the last few years and said: “I find it very strange to cancel the meeting especially when you consider the major concerns of the residents are drugs and the increase in crime.
“This past four months have seen the amount of people attending the PACT meetings each month rise, 38 residents attended the March meeting as more and more people take an active part.”
He was critical of police who attended the last meeting because they had no knowledge of incidents raised by those present, which were a concern to them.
“Why have SYP abandoned holding the meeting? Could it be that they would prefer the public not to have a say in community issues in public!?” said Mr Wood, who is standing as an independent candidate in next month’s council elections.“Let’s not forget if our community hadn’t got the problems that we very clearly have, there wouldn’t be as many people attending.
“Likewise if the Police took more proactive action resulting in less incidents then not as many people would need to attend the PACT meetings.”