South Yorkshire Police chief issues new gun and knife crime plea to Sheffield communities
South Yorkshire's new Chief Constable Lauren Poultney has issued a plea to Sheffield communities not to keep tight-lipped over those who walk the streets armed with guns and knives.
In her first ever interview since she was appointed as the county's police boss in June, Chf Con Poultney told The Star information from communities “could make all the difference” in terms of keeping people safe.
Chf Con Poultney said: “Most of the violence we see is not stranger on stranger, it is often people known to each other.
“If you have information about people leading violent lives our plea is to share that so that resources can be targeted around them more effectively.
“Our focus is to keep people in South Yorkshire safe and making sure they feel safe.”
The Chief Constable said huge strides had been made in tackling armed crime since the formation of a crack team around a year ago.
The specialist Armed Crime Team proactively targets those known or suspected to carry guns and knives.
The team painstakingly gathers evidence and then mounts strike days when arrests are made and offenders are locked up.
A six-month operation resulted in 27 arrests and the seizure of more than £25,000, Class A drugs, a viable firearm an ammunition in June.
More than 30 police raids were carried out and in total the two-day enforcement arm of the operation involved more than 120 police officers and colleagues from partner agencies including the Regional Organised Crime Unit and National Crime Agency.
Chf Con Poultney said more similar operations are under way and are to be expected long term.
Between January and June 2021 compared to the same period the previous year, firearm discharges across South Yorkshire were down 21 per cent overall and down 38 per cent in Sheffield.
Seizures of guns by the police were up 50 per cent across the board.
“Knife and gun crime is totally unacceptable. We undertake a range of proactive activity to investigate and deter those involved in this crime,” said the chief constable.
“The proactive targeting of individuals is absolutely making a difference. Activity of that kind really is key.
“Hard-edged policing, the kind where we are targeting people that harm our communities, is something we will continue to do and we will do even more of. It is working.
“We need the public to play their part and not ignore armed crime. If they know who is involved, our plea is to tell us. That piece of information could make all the difference - don't ignore it, tell us about it and help make your communities safer.”
The Chf Con said: “There are some groups for whom carrying a knife or gun is seen as a normal thing to do.
“If you do, you are more likely to be involved in an incident involving one and in getting hurt.
“We will act on intelligence and deter and detect gun and knife crime offences, but there is a bigger picture and we cannot just enforce our way out of this.”
She praised the work of the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit, which involves police and partners working together to prevent offending.
“The role of the Violence Reduction Unit does some really important work and is really effective at preventing this (violence) long term,” said the police boss.
“There is also a role for education, parents and peers and some of these voices are really powerful.
“The voice of a parent who has lost a child or a doctor who has battled to save a life need to be heard.
“When people go out armed, they are not thinking of the real consequences for themselves, others they may become involved in confrontations with and for both their families and communities.”
What are the plans for policing Sheffield city centre?
The new police chief has revealed that police officers in Sheffield are joining forces with the city council to tackle issues affecting businesses, residents and visitors in the city centre.
In a bid to eradicate anti-social behaviour, drug taking, street drinking and rough sleeping which blight parts of the city centre, the police and city council are to work together to target those causing issues on the streets.
The hope is that a multi-agency approach will help individuals address their issues long term and create a more welcoming city centre.
Sheffield Council has secured £3.26m in government funding to run the initiative to stabilise and improve the lives of adults facing multiple disadvantages, such as homelessness and substance abuse.
The funding will be used to transform local services to provide a person-centred approach and to reduce crisis demand.
Chf Constable Poultney said: “Working with Sheffield City Council we are embarking upon a 'changing futures' programme to target individuals with multiple disadvantages, such as rough sleepers and people with drug dependency, who can be seen in the city centre and who are associated with repeat offending and anti-social behaviour.
“We are adopting a multi-agency problem-solving approach to this.
“I reached out to the Chamber of Commerce recently to learn of the experiences of businesses of crime and anti-social behaviour and was struck at the willingness of businesses to work with us to help us reduce issues.
“We are really keen to work with businesses and involve them in being part of the solution as well.
“The people we will be targeting are often involved in low-level offending which does not attract custodial sentences.”
Businessman Tim Nye, a former police officer, recently claimed it felt as though the city centre had been ‘abandoned’ by the police.
After being repeat victim of crime, he made a citizen’s arrest last month claiming he was fed up of waiting for officers to take action.
“I don’t doubt there are good cops doing a good job, but the city centre seems to have been abandoned by the police and retailers are now left to their own devices,” he said.
“The officers I’ve met seem completely overwhelmed and demoralised by the lack of resources.
“They and the public deserve much better than what we are getting right now. Of that there is no doubt.”
Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “As Police and Crime Commissioner I go to every town and village in the county – and they all call for more police resources.
“Tim Nye is quite right in saying that a lot of ground was lost when the Conservative-Liberal Democratic Coalition government began to cut police numbers from 2010.
“In 10 years, 20,000 police were cut overall in the country with 500 going in South Yorkshire. This was a disaster, leading to a rise in serious violence and allowing the drug gangs to extend their activities.
“The present government is pledged to get numbers back to where they were in 2010, and here we are set to receive 487 by 2024. I have said we will increase that by 220 from our own local resources.
“We are determined to use these extra numbers to reverse the impact of the cuts.
“The city centre is not neglected. On one day last week, as I walked from the market to the cathedral, I passed two officers and saw two police cars – one at Barker’s Pool and one by the cathedral – from the team that covers the city centre.
“On an evening, as the night-time economy opens up, there will be more.
“But officers cannot be everywhere and we need those who have businesses in the city centre to work with the police and local authority to identify issues and together work out what practical steps we can take to make a difference for good.”
Who is the new chief constable of South Yorkshire Police?
Chief Constable Poultney has spoken of her pride in being appointed to lead South Yorkshire Police.
The married mum-of-one joined the force as an Assistant Chief Constable in 2017 after moving from Humberside Police and went on to become Deputy Chief Constable.
She then carried out the role of Temporary Chief Constable following the departure of her predecessor, Stephen Watson, who is now at the helm at Greater Manchester Police.
A police officer for 23 years, Ms Poultney has undertaken both uniformed and detective roles in a range of areas, including neighbourhood policing, major crime and protecting vulnerable people during her career to date.
She has a five-year contract until 2026.
The chief constable said: “I have had a broad range of postings during my career and have never lost what we do it for - for the public and to make a difference. The vast majority of those who join the police want to make a difference.
“I am incredibly proud to be the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police and feel it a privilege to lead the women and men of SYP who deliver for our communities and to be an ambassador for all the work that they do.”