Successful crackdown on knife crime to be expanded with fresh police teams to target street criminals

Three extra policing teams will be working five days a week to help crush knife crime problems across South Yorkshire using £2m provided as a Government response to the country’s soaring violent crime problem.

Wednesday, 1st May 2019, 10:50 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd May 2019, 4:00 pm

The money will help boost the work already done under Operation Fortify in Sheffield, an approach using joint work by several public sector bodies, which saw a small reduction in such crimes when the latest statistics were published recently.

Under plans by Chief Constable Stephen Watson, Operation Fortify will now be extended across the county, with new police teams made up of three sergeants and 21 constables working five days a week in addition to existing officers.

Their role will be to provide ‘surge’ activities, a heavy presence around those believed to be close to the heart of knife crime problems in the county.

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That targeted work will be focused by an increased use of intelligence material, allowing police to map out where problems are likely and where they expect to find offenders.

South Yorkshire is one of seven areas nationally, including neighbouring West Yorkshire, to get a short term spending boost to tackle knife crime.

Mr Watson told a meeting of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billing’s Public Accountability Board that prevented the force recruiting extra staff, but it meant the 35 strong team working on Operation Fortify could be boosted with additional officers on the streets.

For the duration of the project, the Government money will be used to fund overtime payments.

The Fortify team includes police but also colleagues involved in education, health, housing and other areas where the public sector can contribute to finding long-term answers to crime.

He said: “We will use the money towards expanding the facility across South Yorkshire.

“One key element is bringing in better sources of data, from accident and emergency and the ambulance service, which give a better sense of where violence is happening.

“You need a better analytical capability to make sense of it,” he said.

Alongside officers working on the street, money will go into an intelligence cell to gather information and analytics to help make sure police understand the implications of the material gathered.

That would be used to allow the additional officers to work five days a week on ‘surge’ activities “in specific locations against specific cohorts” he said.

“There is a lot of activity ongoing already and we need to capitalise on that. It will be vigorous but fair policing.

“It will be making people feel safe, so the cohort of people who, wrongly, carry knives to defend themselves will be comforted.

“We will be doing work with local communities to make sure they know this is not things being done to them, but for them, with their acceptance,” he said.

Results from the work will have to be fed back to the Home Office, to demonstrate the money has made a difference.

“We are quite happy to do that because it gives a structure and focus to what it is we have embarked upon.

“We are enthusiastic and think it will make a big difference,” he said.

Of the seven police forces to be granted extra money, South Yorkshire is the only one to record a fall in violent crime, with a three per cent drop compared to a 16 per cent increase in the previous year.

“That contrasts very well with what is being seen elsewhere,” said Mr Watson.

“A cautionary not is that these things are never done. We are absolutely determined to maintain this trajectory,” he said.

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The South Yorkshire Police superintendent who has led Operation Fortify work since it was launched in Sheffield has been promoted and will be taking command of one of the county’s four policing districts.

Det Supt Una Jennings has been promoted to Chief Superintendent and will become district commander for the Rotherham area.

She has a wide-reaching background in policing, having served with the Police Service Northern Ireland before transferring to South Yorkshire, where she has been at the forefront of Operation Fortify.

That was set up to address the county’s knife crime problem, focused on Sheffield, using expertise from across the public sector rather than a simple enforcement approach.

Of the big forces worst affected, South Yorkshire is the only one to see offence levels starting to fall.

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “I think she will bring real energy and enthusiasm to the role.”