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Last Updated:  Sunday, 23 March, 2003, 17:18 GMT
Chief's impact beats crime
By Will Froggatt
BBC News Online

Bobbies on the beat
300 officers have been back on the beat in South Yorkshire
"Put more bobbies on the beat" is a familiar cry from people living in towns and cities all over the country.

The days of Dixon of Dock Green may be long gone but the reassurance of seeing policemen out on the streets cannot be underestimated.

And the head of South Yorkshire Police has not let any funding constraints stop him from getting his officers out into the community.

Four weeks ago chief constable Martin Hedges ordered 300 of his desk bobbies out of the office so they could tackle crime at the sharp end.

The former beat bobby spoke to BBC News Online about the reasons behind the innovative strategy, the latest stage of an ongoing initiative called Operation Impact.

He said: "The public wants more police on the street but we wanted to see what difference it really does make on crime figures.

"We have to have a high visibility presence for reassurance, but we also need the expert teams to tackle high level criminals, the lifestyle villains."

Many policemen had to receive additional training, including self defence and the use of CS spray.

Martin Hedges
The chief constable tackled riots in London

For probationary constables, traffic cops, and community beat officers, the emphasis has been on street work and non-essential police training has been postponed.

In the first three weeks of the operation, police said there had been an extra 189 arrests for street crime, and 721 for other crimes, including robbery, and car jacking.

They also said that some of the county's more persistent offenders had been targeted and taken off the streets.

Detection rates for crime have also risen from 28% before the initiative, to 45% during the first three weeks.

Mr Hedges, who has been chief constable since 1998, said: "The number of arrests have gone up in all areas of the force. So far so good."

But more arrests equal more paperwork, which could put an extra strain on the force when the operation comes to an end.

Important jobs

And Mr Hedges admitted he could not sustain the high level of policing, saying there would be a phased withdrawal back to normal levels.

But he said it would be possible to re-introduce the scheme for short periods if it became necessary.

"If we had these additional levels of officers permanently I could provide this service on a regular basis, but there is only so much money."

And he was keen to emphasise that desk workers had been in important roles before the operation.

The chief constable said: "They have all being doing relevant jobs, but these have gone on the backburner for six weeks. We will have to catch up with it later."

National interest

Mr Hedges, a policeman for 36 years, explained how his time in the force had shown him the importance of working in partnership with other community organisations.

He said: "When I sit in this chair I go back to my time in London in the 1980s when we had riots. I was commanding staff in the middle of that.

"I have seen first hand the damage and devastation that can be caused to communities.

"We have to do whatever we can to prevent that type of disorder breaking out."

And although the full impact of his crime-busting scheme won't be known until the end of the six weeks, Mr Hedges has already had calls from other interested police chiefs.

Civilian officers join the beat
12 Mar 03 |  England

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