Rural areas fear police shake-up

FEARS were last night voiced about police response times to rural areas under plans to radically shake up the force in Suffolk.

Concerns have been raised that more remote areas could be left without adequate cover following the overhaul, to be completed next month. The plans will see the county’s 23 response centres reduced to nine in Mildenhall, Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill, Sudbury, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Woodbridge, Halesworth and Lowestoft.

Officers will be briefed at one of the new bases, just like under current arrangements, and then deployed to patrol a particular area. New technology will then be used to track where vehicles are so the nearest, most appropriate resource can respond to a call.

Police chiefs believe this will lead to an improved service that will more effectively meet people’s needs.

But last night concerns were expressed about the affect this could have in more remote areas.

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Simon Tobin, vice-chairman of Waveney District Council, said: “I have some serious concerns about this ‘streamlining’ or for a better word, ‘cut’, in service. I believe it is a serious move backwards and to my knowledge has not been discussed with district councils or the community as a whole.

“If a major incident happened in Southwold, the area may have a response officer or team coming in from say, Woodbridge – 35 miles away – because the Halesworth team is in Lowestoft. The response time will be far too long.”

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His views were echoed by Tony Cooper, chairman of Leiston Town Council, who said: “We feel exactly the same. We are very concerned that we will not get the cover from police officers that we are currently getting.”

Lynne Cockerton, chairman of Debenham Parish Council, said they had not been made aware of the plans.

She said: “It’s been poorly publicised. Obviously we wouldn’t want to see any reduction in our service. We need to be given the facts and figures.”

Lyn Gurling, chairman of Lavenham Parish Council, said: “It concerns me that a major change like this is taking place and we barely know anything about it. I would like to hear the details and get a clear picture of how this will affect Lavenham and smaller villages outside of the nine response centres.”

Police chiefs believe the plans will lead to an improved service and have pledged officer numbers on the street will not change. A patrol plan has also been developed to ensure appropriate coverage across the county at all times.

Meanwhile, the 23 bases currently used by response officers will all remain in place for use by the Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs).

Assistant Chief Constable, Gary Kitching, said: “I’d like to assure people in rural communities that their SNTs will remain and will continue to work closely with partners and local communities to deal with problems highlighted by local people and to provide a visible presence county-wide.

“Response officers and SNT officers will continue to work together to tackle local issues.”

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