South Yorkshire Police have confirmed that pupils attending Penistone Grammar School have also been subject to stop and search checks for drugs on their way to classes, though results of those have all been negative.
Police have been under increasing pressure from residents to increase the force’s presence in the town and surrounding communities, after losing officers and PCSOs from its local station during austerity cuts.
One constable has now been stationed back there in an arrangement unique to the South Yorkshire force, but other neighbourhood officers responsible for the area remain stationed miles away in suburban Barnsley.
The town is to get a second officer based there as part of an expansion to provide 40 new neighbourhood officers next year, sanctioned by Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.
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But alarm is growing among residents about the scale of problems in the area, which included a marauding gang of teenagers touring the area a little more than a week ago, resulting in what residents claimed to be intimidation of motorists in a community centre car park, brownies being locked inside their meeting room while the offenders were outside and serious damage to a parked car, which had a window smashed and bodywork dented.
Officers attending a community safety meeting said they had few details of the incident, but residents claimed the principal offender was a 17 year old, who was delivered home by police who attended, rather than being charged, and they blamed drugs.
Those attending the meeting said compensation for damage caused had been promised, but some questioned why there was no stronger police action.
Former police officer and Penistone Town Councillor Graham Saunders told the meeting: “I keep stumbling across youths with drugs. It is a problem and they are there.”
Residents believe a teenage boy was airlifted to hospital from Penistone around a week ago with apparent drug overdose symptoms, but police said such an incident would not necessarily by reported to them.
Police Sgt Darrell Needham told the meeting officers from the Operational Tasking Team, who work in plain clothes, had been drafted into the area.
“There is ongoing work with the child and young persons officers at Penistone Grammar School.
“We have had reports of issues before and after school in Huddersfield Road. Quite a few youths have been stopped and searched. None (drugs) were found at that time,” he said.
An investigation is ongoing after police also raided a cannabis farm installed at a house in Penistone.
That resulted in a substantial number of plants being seized, along with the hydroponics equipment used to grow the plants in artificial light, with one man arrested.
Community activist David Wood is in the process of gathering details from 1,000 for a questionnaire on crime in Penistone, which he will present to the authorities when completed – with drugs emerging as the main concern among those who have already provided answers.
From 780 people who had now completed the questions, 444 – or 57 per cent – flagged up drugs as the biggest issue of concern, followed by burglary and car crime.
“Drugs is the number one issue and drugs fuel crime,” he said.
Barnsley Coun Dave Griffin, who represents the Penistone West ward, has conducted crime surveys in the district for the last three years, using the evidence gathered to support a campaign to get more police based in Penistone.
The results of his work suggest fear of crime among residents in the area is far greater than that experienced in 'average' rural areas of the county.