Assurances have been provided that public policing meetings – scrapped after “fractious” exchanges with residents – will be re-introduced in the Penistone district of Barnsley when a new formula has been worked out.
Tensions have been growing at monthly PACT – police and communities together – meetings in Penistone for some time, with numbers attending soaring in recent months, amid concerns about drug abuse in the area, increases in rural crime and the level of police presence.
April’s meeting was “postponed” by police as a result but meetings have since taken place with councillors who have been told a new style of dialogue with the public will be introduced when details have been established.
Coun Andrew Millner, who represents the Penistone West ward on Barnsley Council said PACT meetings had been focused on that ward, meeting in the town centre, when they were intended to represent both the east and west wards of Penistone.
“The proposal is to flit it around, to Silkstone, Carlecotes or Crowedge, for exampe,” said Coun Millner.
“They will come up with something which allows them to control the meeting. It is not a council meeting, it is a police meeting, it allows them to provide residents with information about what is happening,” he told a meeting of Penistone Town Council.
“There isn’t a firm date, they are having a period of reflection because over the last six months the meetings have been fractious.
“A lot of attendees have not been able to have their say. The PACT meetings have not been able to stick to their agenda.
“What it is about is to set a priority for the next month, anti-social behaviour for example. They have not been able to do that; that is not what the meetings are about.”
Coun Jill Hayler said: “I have found certain individuals quite intimidating and I had sympathy for the police.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings will attend a public meeting at Penistone Grammar School next month, after attending a recent PACT meeting.
Now councillors are hoping Chief Constable Stephen Watson will also attend that meeting, following on from a similar event in 2017.
At the time the focus of frustration was from the farming and rural communities, who felt exposed to travelling criminals who exploited the isolation of their homes and businesses, compounded by a poor geographical knowledge of the area by police.
Discontent with policing in Penistone goes back several years to a decision taken to centralise police teams, leaving no officers based at the town’s station.
Although PCSO numbers were increased to compensate, within months they had also all been moved to Barnsley.
Since then PCSOs have been returned to be based at Penistone police station, with one constable working directly from there and another to follow, backed with support from other neighbourhood officers based several miles away at Kendray.
It is hoped over time that as more neighbourhood police are reintroduced, Penistone’s level of direct cover will improve.