I SPENT a little time recently walking through Rotherham town centre with PC Paul Jameson from the central neighbourhood team.
We passed the imposing front of the Minster, strolled along the shopping streets, dropped in on some of the shops and then visited a cafe and stalls in the market.
The market was especially busy — and I bought a bargain pack of Lincolnshire sprouts which should keep me going through Christmas to the New Year.
In McDonalds restaurant two Police Community Support Officers, Ashley Hill and Tina Green, had set up a stall at the entrance with information about crime prevention, and were talking to many of those who were passing through.
I met the manager, Andy Bainbridge, and the owner, Franco Ventura, who told me about his business and the others in the centre.
I hadn’t appreciated until I met him just how critical it is for the retailers to see the town centre footfall not just maintained but increased — profit margins can be very tight and incidents or just bad weather can soon depress numbers.
He asked me how long I thought the average customer stayed in a fast-food restaurant like his.
I had no idea, but was very surprised when he said it was 20 minutes.
In other words, if businesses like his are to be able to maintain themselves they need a steady flow of people coming into town, looking round the shops and dropping in for a coffee, all through the day.
Which is where the police come in.
People will not visit the town centre or its shops if they have to contend with aggressive begging or are anxious about street robberies or have to confront people with drug or alcohol issues.
A steady and visible police presence helps to deter crime and increase the sense of safety.
In addition, a regular team of officers who get to know the area and the retailers can work with the agencies that tackle those non-crime issues that nevertheless cause as much disquiet and put people off coming in.
This is well understood by the Rotherham centre police team who are forming strong relationships with retailers and business owners.
This can only get stronger as we look forward to increased numbers of police officers joining the force in coming years.
We all have a part to play in making the town centre somewhere we are happy to visit and spend time.
Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire