Some of South Yorkshire’s most inexperienced police officers have succeeded in tackling long-standing problems in the last few months, after being recruited for a national scheme which aims to put some of the country’s sharpest young graduates at the heart of neighbourhoods new ideas.
Police Now is a national scheme which recruits graduates on the strength of their problem-solving qualities rather than as committed career police officers and after a crash-course in the basics of law and policing practice at a London college, they are put straight out to work in challenging neighbourhoods for two years.
South Yorkshire Police recruited 14 who joined the service at the end of last summer and the results of their first months in place have encouraged senior officers – who have seen progress on simple but difficult to solve problems as a result of their involvement.
Barnsley’s police district was allocated two of those, based at Kendray and Goldthorpe, and both have reported success in reducing problems which have affected the day-to-day lives of those in the communities they serve.
District commander Chief Supt Scott Green said the scheme differed from normal police recruiting because it worked on the principle of attracting some of the brightest graduates, following the principle of a scheme called Teach First, aimed at recruiting high quality new teachers.
“The normal entry route is that they tend to do their first two years on a response team, dealing with 24 hour policing and it is only then we ask them to look through fresh eyes and try to solve problems, at which point some of the ideas they have might not be as fresh,” he said.
Under the Police Now scheme those involved will have the opportunity to move on to a different career if they wish, taking with them the experience gained, though there will also be opportunities to develop a full career for those who want to continue in the service.
“The idea is to put Police Now officers straight onto neighbourhood policing teams, to bring their undoubted intellect, passion and new ideas to the problems they see.”
That has resulted in the recruitment of constables like Fran Robbs, 21, with a degree in zoology from Leeds University which was perhaps an unlikely indicator of a potential career in policing.
Her early expectation of a career in conservation work gave way to taking a Police Now placement and she has been working constructively to help solve anti social behaviour problems around a leisure centre on the estate, which had been shown to have the potential to escalate into more serious issues such as race hate offences.
That work has focused on working with both the community at large and the youths blamed for causing the majority of problems in the area, in an attempt to encourage a sense of respect for the facilities they have.
“Things have definitely improved, there is a much lower rate of incidents compared to last summer,” she said.
“There is a bit more respect. People used and abused the centre, but now there is more respect for the site,” she said.
Colleague Amy Mellor, 22, is a graduate in English language for education and is based with the Goldthorpe safer neighbourhood team.
That is an area where some sections of the community still have a mistrust of the police which dates back to the 1984 miners’ strike and part of her role has been to try to help break down those barriers, a task which has seen her get onto first name terms with some of the young people who frequent the area.
But there is also a more hard edged side to the work and it was PC Mellor who realised the installation of CCTV in Doncaster Road, where the majority of shops are based, would help deter crime.
That has since provided the images to help detect a racial incident, with the offenders now dealt with by the authorities.
“It is about engaging with kids,” she said.
“We don’t want to criminalise them and I have a good relationship with a lot of young people. They know me by my first name and instead of avoiding us, they come up and chat. There is a level of respect with some, if not all.
“It is about liaising with the community and responding to that. Their issues may not be the same as police priorities.
“I don’t come from a policing background and it was a case of walking around the community and asking myself what would be bothering me,” she said.