Suffolk and Essex propping up national table for neighbourhood police presence
- Credit: Archant
The populations of Suffolk and Essex have been revealed among the poorest served by neighbourhood police in the country.
New figures show the two counties have among the fewest neighbourhood officers and support staff per 1,000 people.
Police workforce data over a five-year period, from 2012 to 2017, puts Suffolk Constabulary almost at the foot of the table for England and Wales – behind only Essex, and separated from Norfolk by three places.
In April 2016, the constabulary launched a new Suffolk Local Policing Model – reducing PCSOs from 166 to 107 – as part of a requirement save almost £7.5million by 2020. Meanwhile, the number of safer neighbourhood teams fell from 29 to 18.
It leaves one neighbourhood officer or PCSO per 4,500 people.
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While the total number almost halved (-45.62%) since 2012, the overall workforce fell only 6%, reflecting a profound change in approach to policing.
Cyber offences, domestic and sexual abuse, grooming and modern slavery have forced police to address a changing pattern.
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Last week, it was revealed overall reported crime was up 16% in Suffolk – similar to national trends – but police said the crime rate per head was lower than average and placed it 17th lowest of all forces.
It came the same week as the Police and Crime Panel approved a 6.8% rise in the constabulary’s element of council tax bills.
Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore said: “These numbers are a reflection of the budgetary position we face in Suffolk.
“It’s one of the reasons for the maximum precept increase, which will provide some relief and a potential increase in uniformed officers.
“I want to reiterate that community policing is the bedrock of keeping this county safe, but this is a matter of choice and priorities.
“There has been significant investment in roads policing; we have a state-of-the-art cyber crime unit; and are second-to-none in dealing with domestic abuse and violence.
“I have made sure money is spent in different areas. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and I wish we had more resources, but we have to live within our means.”
The recent council tax rise followed the government’s relaxation of a precept cap, which had required a local referendum for proposed increases above 2%.
The loosening of the cap came as the government announced £450m for all forces – contingent on more than half (£270m) being raised from local tax rises.
The constabulary’s financial reserves have fallen by a quarter (from total resource reserves of £14.5m to £10.8m) since 2011. The money is kept to help manage risk and fund major future costs, and includes ring-fenced reserves for capital investment.
Suffolk’s total is less than half that of Norfolk, which has seen a 15% increase in reserves, and like almost every other force in the country, has a lighter case work load per officer.
Mr Passmore, who campaigned to obtain a fairer share of government funding for Suffolk, said: “We have the highest workload per officer in the country. These figures reflect that.
“We also have to maintain reserves. I don’t believe they should be vast, but they need to be kept available.
“It’s about getting the right resources in the right place.”
Last December, Mr Passmore said it would be unacceptable if the Home Office refused to provide any financial support for the search for missing RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague.
Meanwhile, an appeal court decision to overturn a ruling that the force had been entitled to charge Ipswich Town for match day policing outside Portman Road contributed £280,000 to a forecast £1.9m overspend this financial year.
Nationally, about 14% of almost 11,000 officer jobs cut in England and Wales were neighbourhood policing posts. The number of police community support officers in England and Wales dropped from 14,393 to 10,205.
Last year, Essex Police was praised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for developing a sophisticated understanding of new, emerging and hidden demand, including cyber crime, hate crime and female genital mutilation.
Roger Hirst, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “A key priority in my Police and Crime Plan is deliver local, visible and accessible policing.
“Since being elected in 2016, we have stopped the reduction in officer numbers and identified extra funding to enable the chief constable to increase the number of officers we have in Essex.
“In 2017, we were able to increase the number of officers to 2,850, and last year I worked hard with the Home Office on behalf of the people of Essex and secured additional funding through an increase in local council tax to increase the number of officers by a further 150.
“This will bring the total number of officers to more than 3,000 in the next twelve months.
“We are also investing more in new technology to support officers to spend more time in their communities, rather than at their desks doing paperwork. So far, this has saved over 19 minutes per shift.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are clear that effective local policing needs to be about more than just visibility in isolation. With crime increasingly taking place behind closed doors and online, it is also about safeguarding vulnerable groups or individuals, and giving the police the powers they need to deal with emerging and hidden crimes.”