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Local News

Council and police address fears of Sheffield ‘spice zombies’

today04/07/2021

Background
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For many Sheffielders, shopping in the city centre – once a time-honoured way to while away a Saturday – has become less appealing in recent years.

The centre has lost a large number of shops, especially in the last few months as the impact of the Covid pandemic makes the high street untenable for many struggling brands.

And the departure of John Lewis from the Barker’s Pool area of town has been hailed as the final nail in the coffin for an already struggling city centre.

Read more: The Yorkshire city overrun by ‘beggars and druggies’ that no one wants to shop in

But many shoppers have said that it is not just the dwindling high street that has put them off shopping in town, as daytime drug use and anti-social behaviour has left some feeling unsafe.

Last week, South Yorkshire Live spoke to city centre shoppers and workers who told us that they had noticed an increase in “down-and-outs” and people using drugs such as spice.

To get the latest email updates from Yorkshire Live, click here.

One person who works in the city centre told us that the area does not feel safe anymore, they said: “The word safe is relative depending on how many down-and-outs are about and how many people are on spice.

“Two or three years ago I’d have been happy for my teenage daughter to meet me in the centre for lunch, I wouldn’t now; I wouldn’t let her come and meet me at work, I’d meet her off the tram.”

And student’s Alexandra Webb and Matthew Hall, both 20, agreed that they had seen an increase in the number of people requiring emergency service intervention in the city.

Matthew said: “The other day we did see someone who had collapsed and it looked like they had overdosed.”



Groups of people taking drugs can often be seen outside Sheffield Cathedral
Groups of people taking drugs can often be seen outside Sheffield Cathedral

How the police are dealing with it

However, South Yorkshire Police have reassured Sheffielder’s that they are working hard to keep people safe and said that the issues facing our city centre are not just a Sheffield problem.

Neighbourhood Policing Team Sergeant, Jon Simpson, told South Yorkshire Live: “The first thing I would say is in terms of Sheffield city centre is that I don’t think it’s a dissimilar picture to other city centres, I think they’re having similar experiences as we are in terms of anti-social behaviour, begging and drug use.”

PS Simpson said that he believes a number of factors in recent months may have led to a slight increase in this type of behaviour, but did say that police are aware of the issues and reassured locals that there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on to tackle it.

He said: “We are aware of the problem and we have a number of tactics and operations. Our ‘business as usual’ approach will comprise of officers on patrol along with Police Community Support Officers and they’ll patrol the city.

“Those patrols are intelligence-led and we take feedback from the local community and partners in the council, so those patrols are on the basis of that information and we make sure that they are pinpointed patrols – we obviously provide a general presence, but then focus in on particular areas.”

PS Simpson said that a great deal of their intelligence also comes from the many CCTV operators who are watching the feeds from around the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“CCTV is very pro-active in terms of flagging up if there are issues in the city so the operators have a good local knowledge and they’ll focus all over the city”, PS Simpson said.

He added: “If they feel there needs to be police or council interaction then we will send officers out to engage with those people.

“Even if they’re not committing an offence per se, we have at our disposal dispersal authority which means that, if we do come across someone that we feel is involved or has been involved with anti-social behaviour, we have the ability to ask them to leave and stay out of the city centre – providing they’re not a resident – for up to 48 hours and that’s a useful tool that we have.”

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PS Simpson stressed that this approach requires sign-off from an officer of at least Inspector rank so that it can be assessed and ensured that the approach is proportional, but police have had great success with this in the past.

“On the whole, we do get compliance and it is effective,” PS Simpson said.

He added: “On occasions where a dispersal has been issued and we have someone refusing to leave or we come across them a few moments later then we do have the ability to arrest them if they don’t comply.

“So, it’s not a toothless power, there is a hard edge to it and an arrest will be made if they refuse to comply.”

And to keep a high visible presence, South Yorkshire Police also operate monthly deployments bringing a larger number of officers, along with the mounted division and drug dogs, to hotspot areas.

PS Simpson said that this approach is twofold – it helps to deter would-be criminals, but also provides essential community engagement so that passers-by can chat to officers and interact with the working animals, which are always very popular.

“We know it’s always a constant challenge to policing to make sure the city centre is safe but, rest assured, we are doing what we possibly can”, PS Simpson said.

The Council’s response

It is not just South Yorkshire Police that are working to keep the city centre safe.

Working alongside the police is Sheffield City Council, which is able to deploy specialist services to individuals when police intervention may not be the most suitable approach.

Services such as medical assistance, housing support and help for people with drug and alcohol addictions are available and support workers are often deployed to the city centre so that they can help those that require it.

Councillor George Lindars-Hammond, Executive Member for Health and Social Care at Sheffield City Council said: “The council’s drug and alcohol team (DACT), South Yorkshire Police and other partners are continuing to do everything that they can to help.

“The Sheffield Treatment and Recovery Team based at 42 Sidney Street are providing increased community outreach work, street-based help and offering a specialist spice drop-in clinic.

“We have made sure that all rough sleepers in the city have been provided with accommodation during Covid-19 and we know that some of them have started to engage with drug and alcohol support services as a result of this during the lockdown period.”

This, the council have said, is just one way that they are working to keep everyone safe – not just vulnerable drug and alcohol users, but shoppers and workers as well.

Richard Eyre, Director of Operational Services at Sheffield City Council said: “City centre visitors and workers can be assured that we are working hard to keep people as safe as possible.

“We have a team of ambassadors working across the city centre and alongside colleagues from SY Police who are backed up by a comprehensive CCTV and radio system which is used by all businesses.

“Like the majority of other big cities, we have had a reduction in footfall especially due to office workers working from home which does make issues like homelessness and begging stand out more. In reality we aren’t seeing any actual increases in numbers reported through partner agencies.

“However we know we need to build back confidence and support our city-centre businesses so, as well as increasing patrols to provide reassurance, we have developed plans to increase footfall, including a packed calendar of events as part of Summer In The Outdoor City.”

Where to get help

Cllr Lindars-Hammond said that anyone who wants help with spice, alcohol or any other substance, can walk into the Treatment and Recovery Team service at 42 Sydney Street.

Here they will have access to help, advice and support. The service is open five days a week from 9am to 5pm, and until 8pm on Thursdays.

More information can be found at the Sheffield DACT website or by contacting START on 0114 3050500.

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Written by: Rother Radio News


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today04/07/2021