FEATURE: Squatters, drug dealing and counter-terrorism - policing the streets of Sheffield

It is a long held complaint from members of the public that you don't see as many bobbies on the beat these days as you used to.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 15th June 2017, 9:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st June 2017, 2:21 pm
PCSO Josh Rowley.
PCSO Josh Rowley.

But now South Yorkshire's top cops have listened to these concerns and are in the process of modernising the force to put more emphasis on neighbourhood policing. This should mean residents see more of a police presence in their communities - as more officers will be tasked with getting out and about. But what is it like to be an officer on the beat in the modern day? Reporter Lee Peace hit the streets of Sheffield with a police community support officer to find out.

PCSO Josh Rowley is midway through answering some of my questions at Snig Hill Police Station when the interview has to be cut short.

Litter and drug paraphernalia strewn at a car park in the Wicker.

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Details of a breaking incident have come in over the police radio strapped to his shoulder.

Reports that a group of squatters have taken over a building and are drinking on the roof.

We scramble into a police car and head straight to the scene in Kelham Island.

A member of the public tells us that a group of people have been occupying the building - believed to be a former community centre - for nearly two weeks.

A man on the roof of the property in Kelham Island.

Over the next 20 minutes or so PCSO Rowley shouts back and forth to two men drinking from cans of beer sat on top of the roof.

The men refuse to come down or even let the officer into the property. They are issued with safety advice before we have to move onto the next job.

PCSO Rowley said: "That was a difficult one. They weren't going to co-operate so you have to think is it worth bringing in a few officers, and then the situation could turn out even worse.

"Every person is different and you have to adapt and speak their language. In that situation it was better to handle things calmly and diffuse it."

Counter-terror police carryout a raid in Kelham Island.

He says the ability to adapt is key to the job. And these skills served him well when he saved the life of a man who was threatening to jump from the bridge over Park Square roundabout on Christmas Eve last year.

His quick-thinking earned him the South Yorkshire Police PCSO of the Year Award in February.

He said: "You start every shift with a plan of action, but then if you get a call like that everything changes, and you have to adapt."

PCSO Rowley is part of the Sheffield Central Local Policing Team which is made up of about a dozen PCSOs, a team of police constables and two sergeants.

Glass in Kelham Island - evidence that a car window has been smashed.

The team covers a broad area taking in the city centre and other districts such as Upperthorpe, Netherthorpe, Kelham Island and the Wicker.

PCSO Rowley's main patrol area is Kelham Island and the Wicker.

He shows me two car parks on the Wicker which have become a magnet for people taking drugs. There are cardboard boxes, drug paraphernalia and litter strewn around part of one of them.

"This is obviously used by a lot by the public so it is important that we tackle it. For something like this we would increase patrols and speak to the car park owners to offer crime prevention advice."

He explains that patrols were also recently stepped up in Fitzalan Square in the city centre following reports of anti-social behaviour. Three men, aged 50, 33 and 16 were later arrested on suspicion of drug possession with intent to supply and have been bailed.

Officers also make regular patrols to speak to homeless people in the city centre, which involves giving them advice about charities which can offer help.

Litter and drug paraphernalia strewn at a car park in the Wicker.

He said: "You get to know people. But again you have to be careful how you deal with people.

"If you are too friendly then they may see you as a mate when from time to time they could actually be causing an issue.

"It's all about being able to communicate with people in the right way."

He explained that he and his team of PCSOs are often called in to help officers dealing with major incidents.

This included assisting after counter-terror police swooped to arrest a man at a flat in Kelham Island two weeks ago.

He said: "This was obviously a big operation and there was a lot concern so we went out to knock on doors and provide reassurance.

"In the wake of the terror attacks we were also out on patrol more in the city centre to be a visible presence."

While responding to incidents is simply seen as part of the unpredictable daily routine of being a police officer, things are changing within the South Yorkshire force.

SYP has around 2400 uniformed officers, 1500 of which are dedicated to responding to emergencies.

Assistant Chief Constable David Hartley recently said there was an 'imbalance' between response officers and neighbourhood officers.

He is now leading a modernisation plan to ensure the force has more of a focus on neighbourhood 'beat bobby' policing rather than response units.

The idea is to work harder on crime prevention and 'nip problems in the bud' before they escalate.

PCSO Rowley showed me an example of this.

He said: "We have had a lot of reports of car crime in Kelham Island with people smashing windows and grabbing items on display.

"So we are looking at putting about 30 signs up warning motorists not leave things visible in their vehicles.

"There are a lot of people who visit the area or park here for one day who may not be aware of the crime trends. But if they see the signs then they will know."

As we walk around the area we come across two cars with smashed glass on the floor - evidence that the previous vehicles parked there had been broken into.

Ben McGarry, chairman of the Kelham Island Community Alliance, has been working with police on crime prevention and joined us on the patrol. He said: "There are so many new residential building and other developments springing up in Kelham Island that we need to make people aware of any issues that arise."

PCSO Rowley added: "There are some developments which are not even finished yet and we are already talking to them asking if there will be things like CCTV.

"So that is a way of hopefully stopping crimes before they happen."

With changes on the horizon in how the constabulary goes about policing our streets, PCSO Rowley agrees that increasing the focus on crime prevention is the right way forward but accepts there will always be a 'reaction element' to the job.

The 24-year-old, who is originally from Doncaster, said: "You get to speak to people from all walks of life and find yourself dealing with all sorts of issues. But there's never a dull day."

A man on the roof of the property in Kelham Island.
Counter-terror police carryout a raid in Kelham Island.
Glass in Kelham Island - evidence that a car window has been smashed.