Concerns raised after Suffolk Constabulary loses nearly 7% of its officers in a year
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Fears for the future of Suffolk policing and officer welfare have been raised again after it emerged the county lost nearly 7% of its officers last year.
Suffolk Constabulary figures show that on March 31, 2014, it had the equivalent of 1,221 full-time officers. By the end of March 2015 the number had dropped to 1,140, equating to 81 less posts (a decrease of 6.7%).
The decline was a result of Suffolk Constabulary’s pressing need to make £16.4million of savings by 2018. The ever-increasing scale of cuts required was illustrated in January when that figure was re-adjusted upwards to £20.5m by 2020.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said the rate of police officer decline will be slowed in the next year with only nine full-time posts scheduled to be lost.
However, there is currently a recruitment freeze and Mr Passmore said officer numbers for beyond 2016 had not been decided yet. It is accepted an average cost for a police officer is £50,000 a year.
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Mick Richardson, secretary of Suffolk Police Federation, warned continuing to slash officers from the constabulary’s ranks could endanger the health and safety of his members and the public. Addressing the likely loss of 90 of officers in two years, Mr Richardson said: “That is not a healthy number.
“The previous Chief Constable Simon Ash always made a point of saying the critical mass of police officers was 1,200.
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“We understood that number would have to drop and Chief Constable Paxton was unable to commit to the same number. We understood a change to the constabulary organisational model would necessitate a smaller number of police officers and such cuts have consequences.
“We were reassured by Mr Passmore time and time again it would come from natural wastage, but we have to had to stop recruiting and suffer the ignominy of A19 (a regulation allowing the release of officers after 30 years service). If as a result of those conditions – primarily the lack of recruiting – that number is allowed to drop it does make you wonder precisely how we are going to advance the changes in the way we are going to police, yet protect the welfare and sanity of those left behind to deal with all the work.”
However, despite Mr Richardson’s concerns about the increased stress his members could be under he did not believe they would abandon people at their time of greatest need.
Mr Richardson said: “Police officers are the people who pick up the phone when nobody else is there.
“If we have a member of the community ring us and they are in crisis I am fairly certain in reality we would still respond. At the end of the day our priority is to protect life and safety.”
Mr Passmore said the constabulary was having to look at a raft of savings across the whole organisation to meet cuts needed. Many have already been made and further plans are being put in place to keep the constabulary afloat financially in the future.
He said: “I am quite comfortable with these plans. The primary issue is keeping Suffolk safe. It is one of the safest in the whole country and I jolly well intend to keep it that way.”