Councillor slams police cuts decision

Cllr Angela Wiltshire opposes the cuts the Suffolk Police is proposing ANL-150712-205831009
Cllr Angela Wiltshire opposes the cuts the Suffolk Police is proposing ANL-150712-205831009

A councillor has hit out at proposals to cut a number of police officers and close the district’s two police stations to members of the public.

There had been fears stations would be closed completely, but Suffolk Police announced on Friday that instead front desks would be closed, with no public access to any stations apart from in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Lowestoft.

The announcement revealed how the force planned to deliver the £20.5 million savings required by the Government by 2020.

The changes include reducing the number of safer neighbourhood teams (SNTs)from 29 to 18 and staff reductions of 26 police officers, 68 police community support officers and 17 staff posts.

The Babergh East, Babergh West and Sudbury and Great Cornard SNTs will be replaced with one SNT in Sudbury and another in Hadleigh, but it is unknown how many job losses there will be in Babergh.

Key changes also include streamlined processes for the investigation of crime; with policing areas revised to East, West and South and the creation of nine policing ‘locality’ areas, combining emergency response, investigations, SNTs, volunteers and the Special Constabulary.

Hadleigh town councillor Angela Wiltshire was disappointed by the news, opposing many of the Government’s austerity measures.

She is especially concerned about the loss of PCSOs.

“These are people who have grown up in the town,” she said. “They have got that local knowledge. We see them, they turn up to events, they are part of the community.

“They are very approachable. Here the police are a prevention rather than being heavy handed which is lovely for a town like Hadleigh.

“I think it will be a tragedy losing that face to face contact for regional-style policing.”

She is particularly concerned about elderly and vulnerable members of the community, those not on social media who she feels may miss out on a local presence.

Another concern for Mrs Wiltshire is the loss of the front desks.

She says Hadleigh’s front desk is frequently in use and was again important for vulnerable members of society.

Declan Gallagher, a partner and head of crime and motors at Bury’s Burnett Barker solicitors, agrees, expressing fears that the change might affect people getting bail.

He explained: “It occasionally happens people are allowed to report by pressing the automatic call button.

“That’s fine, but if it’s to prevent somebody absconding, buzzing through to say ‘I’m at the police station’ may not be good enough.”

He also raised the question of handing over paper driving documents at police stations.

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said front desks had been closed at police stations because so few people used them, adding two thirds of ‘front desk interaction’ was at Bury, Ipswich and Lowestoft, the closure saving £700,000.

Work will now be carried out to implement changes for the new policing model to go live from April 2016.

The changes are projected to realise savings of £2.7 million in 2016/17 and £2.3 million in 2017/18, contributing towards £15 million of savings that have been identified, with a further £5.5 million savings to be found

Police chiefs insisting every effort will be made to redeploy individuals into other posts.

Temporary Chief Constable Gareth Wilson said changes to SNTs and PCSOs should be seen as a new structure, not just a cost cutting exercise.

He added: “What we’ve said is that the whole concept of safer neighbourhood is a core of our policing model.

“We’ve kept almost 100 PCSOs, some forces are getting rid of them, because we think it’s right to have a good mix of PCSOs and officers communicating with the public.”

Sudbury Town Council clerk Jacqui Howells said a discussion on Sudbury’s policing would be held in the new year.

Mr Passmore said he was “absolutely convinced” they had found the “best balance” for Suffolk Police.