Woodbridge Town Council puts policing concerns to crime chief ahead of restructure
- Credit: Archant
The county’s crime chief was in the hot seat at a public meeting to discuss the impact of changes to policing on a Suffolk town.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore took up an invitation to visit Woodbridge with superintendent Jenny Powell and convince local leaders that the town could be kept safe in the light of planned savings.
Mr Passmore told the town council that crime was changing, and that policing must change accordingly. He said officers faced new demands that required an appropriate use of resources.
However, the town council’s immediate concerns were focused more on traffic enforcement and visible policing than a rise in cyber crime, domestic servitude or terrorism.
Mr Passmore explained that the Autumn Statement had improved the constabulary’s financial position, reducing required savings from £20.5million to £7.5m by 2020, but he said a balance of almost £1.3m still needed to be saved by 2020.
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It means reducing safer neighbourhood teams (SNTs) from 29 to 18; police community support officers (PCSOs) from 166 to 107, and police station front counters to just Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
Woodbridge will share one sergeant, two PCs, three PCSOs and a match-funded PCSO in the ‘Ipswich East’ area. But, said Mr Pasmore, officer numbers would actually increase to 1,100 across Suffolk, with 30 recruited this year.
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“With pressure on funding, the question is how to match resources in order to keep everyone safe,” he told the town council, quoting the cost of a newly qualified PCSO as £30,410, compared to £29,597 for a starting constable.
He said up to a third of police time was now spent dealing with mental health, adding that he was also “staggered” by the rise in cyber crime.
“We must have the right workforce balance to reflect the changing pattern of crime,” he said.
Superintendent Jenny Powell said the role of SNTs would “focus on changing demand and changing calls for service”.
She said officers and staff would fulfil four core roles – vulnerability and safeguarding, community engagement, demand management and crime reduction.
Councillor Geoff Holdcroft said: “I accept Suffolk is a safe county but one particular perception of safety in this town concerns traffic. The problem has grown in The Thoroughfare – and with speeding elsewhere in the town, the perception is that someone will be badly injured. Some of us are in the mood for direct action.”
Mr Holdcroft said things would worsen if people “continued to see low-level crime being ignored”. He said the council had proposed a trial ‘blitz’ on rule-breaking in The Thoroughfare, but that the police “would not engage”.
Mr Passmore said he would discuss the issue with the chief constable.
Supt Powell said: “This needs to be considered in light of changing demand. That said, we will have to come up with a way of dealing with this. It will be something we have to balance, but it is not something we can put a dedicated resource to.”
Woodbridge resident, Andrew Casey, asked what police would do about the “flagrant disregard of bylaws in The Thoroughfare”.
“One has a feeling it is not considered a priority,” he added.
Mr Passmore said Suffolk was also one of only two constabularies to increase roads policing, adding: “We are putting forward a proposal, agreed by public sector leaders, to decriminalise parking enforcement across Suffolk. We need to ensure parking is enforced properly but, at the same time, work together to find a solution that is self-financing.”
Councillor Martin Sylvester raised the issue of Woodbridge police station’s front desk going unsupervised.
Mr Passmore said that to keep all front desks open around the county would cost an extra £750,000 a year.
Supt Powell said the number of front desk inquiries ranged from as many as 53 to as few as 17 a day.