Only one bobby left to patrol town

By Rebecca SheppardA POLICEMAN has voiced his frustration at dwindling numbers of bobbies on the beat after he was the only officer left to patrol a town.

By Rebecca Sheppard

A POLICEMAN has voiced his frustration at dwindling numbers of bobbies on the beat after he was the only officer left to patrol a town.

Pc Christopher Sadler, whose beat takes in 25 villages and 52 squares miles, blamed the situation on the Government for putting pressure on police chiefs to meet performance targets.

Pc Sadler said, on one recent occasion, he had been the only officer on patrol in the town of Halesworth, which has a population approaching 5,000.

"I felt deserted and more than a little demoralised. We have about 1,350 police officers in my force - an all-time high. But we seem unable to put a couple of them in every small town on a Friday and Saturday night," he added.

"While senior managers are trying to satisfy politicians with statistical information on numerous performance indicators, they - and the Government - are failing to satisfy the public."

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Pc Sadler continued: "Our senior police officers are removing police officers from rural areas and putting them in places like Lowestoft so they have an effect on statistics.

"I cover 52 square miles and 25 villages in rural Suffolk. The total amount of crime in one year does not match up to Lowestoft in one week so of course the Chief Superintendent says that officers should be in Lowestoft so they have more of an impact on the targets.

"That means the average citizen in villages sees a police officer once a week instead of every other day. Senior police officers have to be slaves to the concept of performance indicators, which they have to satisfy."

Pc Sadler admitted the only way to head the police performance targets was to put officers in the four main towns of Suffolk to bring the overall crime rate down.

"I would do the same as the Chief Superintendent. It's the nature of the game that I'm having a go at, not the police officers there," he said.

"It's an impossible situation unless you have an incredible amount of police officers, but then health will say they need more health workers, and education will say they need more teachers."

Pc Sadler added performance indicators were used as a political tool to "hoodwink the public to try to make us believe that substantial changes have been made".

He continued: "The public services in general slavishly follow performance indicators.

"The Government, to measure the health service, education and police or whatever, set targets and any organisation is going to try to meet those targets.

"But by doing so, they are not always the way to service the public the way they want to be served.

"The public goes on about more bobbies on the beat, but the Government sets targets that do not really mirror that to a great degree.

"It's all about crimes against property that they can detect, not always by putting bobbies on the beat."

Pc Sadler felt one solution would be to have local politicians, mainly town councillors, managing the lower ranks of the police force, who may decide to redirect officers from speed cameras to streets.

"Rather than having one police officer working for the whole of Suffolk, it would not be one size fits all," he said.

"My police beat is different to places with nightclubs. You have got to have local people have a local say in delivering services."

He added: "Suffolk Constabulary tries to do too much. It tries to be the crime-fighting, kicking down doors, arresting drug dealers and the village policeman and the traffic policeman and it can't do everything."

A spokesman for Suffolk police said they were committed to providing a quality policing service for the county.

He added that had been helped by the Suffolk First initiative, which saw uniformed police officers undertaking a certain amount of patrolling each month to provide reassurance to the public.

"Critical to that success has been the recruitment of extra police officers, but making sure they are based in the places they are most needed," said the spokesman.

"It's important to remember that the patrol officer is one type of officer on duty. At any one time there are CID officers, traffic officers, firearms officers, dog teams and all of these can be called on to certain areas at any time," he added.

Liz Pettman, chairman of the Suffolk Police Federation said: "Critically we are, as a service, required more and more to produce performance information, management information and statistics.

"We have got very few police officers in Suffolk that are doing that type of work, who are collecting statistics and producing the statistics on behalf of the organisation.

"We have police staff rather than police officers doing that, but these posts have to be paid for."

A spokesman for the Home Office said it had done a lot to reduce the amount of bureaucracy and red tape in police forces and added targets were there for a "good reason".

He added they enabled comprehensive policies to be drawn up, drove up police performances and ensured the public was informed on how police resources and the taxpayers' money were used.

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