Rural threat from police shake-up
POLICE union officials fear the thin blue line could be reduced in rural areas if Suffolk Constabulary merges with neighbouring forces.Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk Police Authority have submitted their final report on future policing structures to the Home Office, in which they said they would not volunteer to lose the county's police force.
By John Howard
POLICE union officials fear the thin blue line could be reduced in rural areas if Suffolk Constabulary merges with neighbouring forces.
Suffolk Constabulary and Suffolk Police Authority have submitted their final report on future policing structures to the Home Office, in which they said they would not volunteer to lose the county's police force.
But members agreed that if amalgamation was enforced on them, the best option available would be to merge with the Essex and Norfolk forces.
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Now, Phil Smith, general secretary of the Suffolk Police Federation, has spoken of his fears that large numbers of officers could be moved to city areas to tackle crime following any merger, leaving rural areas with reduced cover.
“If we had a problem in the city areas, such as Chelmsford, there could be a mass migration of police to those areas, leaving other areas sparsely policed. Some rural areas might suffer as a result,” said Mr Smith.
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“Nottinghamshire had large gun crime and officers were moved there to fill the gap. That's right to some degree, but from a taxpayers point of view they will not be happy about paying for a service which is not as good.”
Mr Smith said he also expected there to be moves to retire senior officers early as part of cost-cutting measures, and officers may also spend a lot of time simply traveling to far-flung parts of the region during their work time.
But he accepted that the force standing alone was no longer an option for Suffolk, and that change was inevitable.
Sue Kelly, chairwoman of Essex Police Federation, said if the forces had to be merged she did not want to see officers having to travel hundreds of miles to work.
She said: “One thing we want to make sure does not happen is that if Essex does not stand alone and we are amalgamated I don't want my officers being told one week you are working in Grays, in the south of the county, and then in two weeks time being told you are working in Ipswich.
“That is my concern for my officers, to make sure that does not happen, and I have been reassured by some, but not by others.”
John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, who is fighting the plans to merge police forces, said: “This whole proposal is an urban proposal. It's entirely designed to be able to move rural police into the towns.
“This is designed so that the countryside will pay. This will change the police force into a largely urban operation. People in the countryside will feel even less protected than they do now.
A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “We submitted a final report on the future policing structures to the Home Office on December 22.
“At a meeting on December 16, the authority said it would not volunteer to lose the county's police force but, if amalgamation is imposed, the best option is to merge with Essex and Norfolk, in order that local people continue to get the highest possible quality of policing service.”
After the Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced his intention to form as few as 12 strategic forces in England and Wales, Suffolk's police authority and force submitted an outline business case outlining four options in October.
These were to amalgamate the six forces in the region; merge Suffolk with the forces in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire; join Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex forces together or enhance the current force structure to improve protective services.