An independent policing survey for rural communities to the west of Barnsley is to be conducted for the third consecutive year over the summer months in an attempt to monitor the effects of changes in the way the force operates in those areas.
The first was organised in 2016 by Coun Dave Griffin as a response to the controversial decision to scrap neighbourhood policing and centralise the remaining ‘reactive’ officers in hubs based many miles from the town’s most remote communities.
He repeated the process last year, as new Chief Constable Stephen Watson overturned his predecessor’s decision and re-introduced neighbourhood officers and now plans to do the same, even though Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings has recently published his own comprehensive survey into public attitudes towards policing across South Yorkshire.
Coun Griffin used the findings in his surveys, which showed a growing and disproportionate fear of crime among those living in remote areas, to lobby the PCC and senior officers to provide a greater presence in the area.
That led to PCSOs and a constable being returned to work directly from Penistone police station, a unique arrangement in the county because their commanding sergeant remains at one of the centralised hubs in Kendray, around 13 miles away.
Coun Griffin said he would be opening up the survey for people to complete online, as well as doing face-to-face interviews, in an attempt to capture as wide a spread of opinions as possible.
“During the recent election campaign, a lot of people told me policing is still a top concern of theirs. It has not diminished in the last three years.
“I also firmly believe that the two previous surveys have highlighted specific concerns, provided relevant evidence and helped persuade South Yorkshire Police to re-instate a police presence at Penistone police station.
“It is not just shouting about it, it is providing some evidence to help,” he said.
Some of the questions in his survey will echo those used previously, to allow comparisons with the previous work, but some will also repeat what was asked in the PCC’s survey, so a highly localised examination of attitudes in the district around Penistone can be compared with South Yorkshire-wide opinions.
For example, Coun Griffin said in the PCC’s survey, 40 per cent of those questioned said they saw a police officer or PCSO at least once a week and his survey is expected to provide a localised version of such statistics.
The area has been hit be a growing crime problem in the last few years, with a highly active farming community adopting both technology and vigilante style patrols to warn each other of suspected criminal activity and to physically follow those thought to be involved.
They have complained that farming communities near the West Yorkshire border have been disowned by both forces and that when police have been despatched, officers have been unable to find their destination due to unfamiliarity with the area.
PCC Dr Alan Billings has said previously that he believes both urban and rural communities have a right to expect a level of policing suitable for their needs.