Yobs' reign of terror in Sheffield suburb ended by police as anti-social behaviour plummets
A community in Sheffield is no longer living in fear of the abusive yobs who would pelt passing cars and buses with stones, after their reign of terror was broken by police.
Vehicles and sometimes pedestrians were coming under daily attack from unruly youths congregating outside shops around Shiregreen and lobbing missiles, leaving some residents afraid to leave their homes after dark.
But a new police team has restored order to the streets of this otherwise pleasant suburb, with reports of anti-social having plummeted since officers began getting to grips with the culprits last autumn.
While residents say things are still 'not perfect', they have hailed the ongoing work by police to stamp out the attacks.
At the height of the disorder last October, officers in Shiregreeen investigated 137 reports over the course of the month, with the scale of the attacks leading one resident to claim police had 'lost control' after a PCSO was struck by a stone which narrowly missed his eye.
But the number of complaints has fallen sharply since then, with just 39 recorded during March - a reduction of 75 per cent.
That huge decrease has been achieved since the Sheffield North East Neighbourhood Policing Team was formed last autumn as part of a return to community policing designed to nip problems in the bud before they escalated.
Inspector Chris Lewis, the man in charge of that team, whose watch also includes Burngreave and Parson Cross, among other areas, believes Shiregreen is the perfect example of this new approach paying dividends.
"Losing that connection with the community, as we had done, had a significant impact on how we were able to engage with people," he said.
"The new community approach, which enables us to resolve problems on a longer-term basis, is clearly the way forward.
"What's happened in Shiregreen is indicative of the success we will undoubtedly see as this approach continues and expands."
PC Tracey Hilton led the drive to stamp out disorder in Shiregreen, which is her beat, but as the extent of the challenge became clear more officers and resources were soon allocated, with extended patrols introduced and new CCTV cameras rolled out.
At Ecclesfield police station, photos and descriptions of prolific offenders and a list of anti-social behaviour hotspots attached to the noticeboards bear testament to the many hours put in by officers.
One of the first measures was to introduce a dispersal order, giving police extra powers to move potential troublemakers on before their behaviour could escalate.
The next step was to identify the worst culprits and warn them in no uncertain terms their abuse would no longer be tolerated.
To do this, police listened to residents, worked closely with the housing association Sanctuary Housing and teamed up with bus operator First to run so-called 'Trojan' buses, populated by police rather than paying passengers.
Police initially tried to engage with the young people themselves and when this failed sent 'parent advisory letters', alerting their mums and dads they were up to no good.
In most cases, says Inspector Lewis, the parents were 'shocked' by the revelation and happy to cooperate, but others were indignant at the suggestion their children could be up to such misdemeanours.
If writing to the parents did not work, police got the youths to sign what are known as 'acceptable behaviour contracts' - an undertaking to improve their conduct and comply with certain conditions or face further action.
A couple of the culprits were found to have learning difficulties, meaning officers had to work particularly closely with them, their parents and housing bosses to draw up these contracts in a form they could understand.
In the vast majority of cases, these measures were enough, but just last week police went to the courts to secure a 'criminal behaviour order' against one of the most persistent offenders - a legally-binding set of conditions which the subject, who cannot be named, could be prosecuted for breaching.
Inspector Lewis said: "We don't want to criminalise young people if possible. We've very much taken the approach of trying to steer them away from a life of criminality.
"But this individual was one of the main perpetrators. He'd been arrested seven or eight times and placed before the court for committing criminal offences, and he'd been through all the processes we have so he's ended up with criminal convictions and a criminal behaviour order.
"What's happened to him sends a message to youths in that group that this behaviour isn't acceptable.
"The residents of Shiregreen have a right to enjoy their lives without being terrorised by a group of unruly youths."
Police haven't focused solely on targeting the offenders, who gather outside shops on Hartley Brook Road and elsewhere.
A big part of their work, says Inspector Lewis, has been to identify and protect the most vulnerable victims who have been repeatedly targeted.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said: "Things aren't perfect by a long way but they're a lot better than they were. The neighbourhood policing team are doing an amazing job.
"They've really listened to what residents have to say and they're taking our complaints seriously. I just wish more residents would be more proactive in reporting problems, and the courts didn't keep letting police down when these young people are brought before them."
She added that people now feel safer visiting shops at night but said a combination of warmer weather and lighter evenings had contributed to a recent resurgence in antisocial behaviour and it was important for police and members of the community to ensure this did not escalate.