Times have changed and so has the image of Rotherham and its police, says Chief Supt

TYPE the word “Rotherham” into some social media platforms or web channels and you’ll soon be viewing the darker side of life.

Whether it is warranted or not, the grooming gangs of the past have left a seemingly indelible stain on a proud town’s reputation.While locals get on with their daily lives, the overall standing of the borough isn’t what it should be, nationally and beyond.Perhaps the same goes for South Yorkshire Police, who were criticised ten years ago in the Jay Report for the way they handled a flood of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) cases.These, though, are different days.Former Wath Comp schoolgirl Laura Koscikiewicz was hand-picked for her role as Rotherham district commander just over 18 months ago, as the constabulary and Rotherham as a whole, continued to try and repair its image.The Chief Supt says much has changed, recently.Her officers are now recognised as “best of class” when it comes to CSE investigation, and are frequently visited by other agencies eager to learn how Rotherham has modified and improved its outlook and procedures.Policemen and women now give an “empathetic, compassionate and patient response to victims”.But the commander - who has spent the majority of her earlier career working on child abuse, rape, and helping vulnerable and missing persons - admits there is work to do to rid the modern-day town of its image.

“There is no doubt CSE gets brought out by the media, wherever it is in the country. Rotherham and Rochdale are the two places that roll off the tongue and that is a sad place to be,” she says.“But that was some time ago.“We cannot underestimate the impact it has had on the victims here at the time but we've worked really hard as a partnership (with other agencies) over the last few years to improve how we approach all this and lessen the impact on vulnerable individuals.

“It is an area that has had a significant amount of investment...so much so that we know we are doing a good job,” she said adding they had been rated highly in inspections and national reviews.“A lot of what we do in Rotherham is being taken on in the national footprint.“It is important to keep a watching brief on that space and make sure we continue to adapt and keep pace with things as they change; we are confident we are really good at investigating CSE and keeping people safe.”As with other areas of policing, officers have been working on improving their supply of intelligence, and “stepping in early” once signs of abuse have been suggested.While Rotherham police are not outwardly celebrating improved detection rates of CSE, Chief Supt Koscikiewicz stressed: “We should highlight we are good at this, we have invested in this, and people need to feel confident to come forward.”She recognised that “the narrative of what failings we have had in the past still pervades” in some quarters, which had impacted on public trust.“Yes it (CSE) gets rolled out but Rotherham is not the Rotherham it was, Rotherham is a very effective space for investigating and keeping children safe and we are really proud of what we do and committed to it.”