Revamp for police meetings across Barnsley after “confrontational” approach from public

Police are to overhaul the way they communicate with the public across Barnsley following the decision to suspend public meetings in Penistone because senior officers believe they had become “confrontational and unhelpful”.

Monday, 20th May 2019, 11:17 am
Updated Friday, 7th June 2019, 12:17 pm
Dr Alan Billings

PACT, police and communities together, meetings have operated across South Yorkshire for years as a way of allowing the public to alert police to concerns within their communities and to set priorities for police work.

They operate to different formats in different areas but in Barnsley meetings have been held monthly, though in Penistone the tone has changed with increased attendance and increasingly vocal complaints about drugs, rural crime and a lack of police cover.

Following a bitter meeting in April, when officers who attended were accused of having no knowledge of recent crime incidents in the area, that community’s meetings were suspended while the situation was reviewed.

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Now the whole town is to get a fresh approach, with meetings to be spaced at six-weekly intervals to provide better opportunities for police to work more thoroughly on the issues raised.

In Penistone, the new format will be introduced next month, though a date for the first meeting has yet to be clarified.

Across the town, police will also take information from a wider range of partners including parish councils, borough councillors and bodies, as well as picking up information from their own surgeries.

It is possible new technology will also allow PACT meetings to take place online in future, allowing better access for those who are unable to physically attend scheduled meetings.

Chief Insp Mark James said: “I thought the meetings had become confrontational and unhelpful.

“I have had a lot of conversations about how we can improve and negate the confrontation. I propose a six weekly basis, not monthly.

“I think we need time to do things about the issues people raise.

“It will be the same for everyone, our intention is to have engagement with parish councils and ask what people have raised with them.

“We have spoken to elected members to ask what people have raised and we will have surgeries.

“We have the website, where we can take reports from. The PACT meetings will be at the end of that.

“We will bring what we get from all those forums and what comes from Barnsley Counci.”

The intention is to gather information from such a wide range of sources that there are no surprises when officers attend PACT meetings in future.

Disillusionment with policing in Penistone stems from the decision several years ago to scrap neighbourhood policing, leaving the district policed from Barnsley which is a significant distance away.

Although neighbourhood police teams have been re-established, complaints persist in the Penistone area that resources are too thinly spread to protect the most remote areas.