LISTEN: ‘It’s like a game of Whac-A-Mole’: Police chief on County Lines, his future and fighting crime in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:03 05 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:32 05 February 2020

Chief Constable Simon Bailey at Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters, Wymondham. Photo : Steve Adams

Chief Constable Simon Bailey at Norfolk Constabulary Headquarters, Wymondham. Photo : Steve Adams

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2015

In the second EDP Big Interview podcast, editor David Powles spoke to Norfolk Constabulary Chief Constable Simon Bailey about the challenges the force faces, government cuts, drug and knife crime and his own time in the police.

Police in a briefing for a drugs raid for Operation Gravity on a property in the Aylsham Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice in a briefing for a drugs raid for Operation Gravity on a property in the Aylsham Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The chief of Norfolk police has described the last decade as "the greatest challenge" he has faced amid multi-million pound cuts to the force's budgets and the emergence of increasingly complex crimes.

However, despite admitting his force had been "cut into the bone", Mr Bailey believed it had risen to the challenge and remained one of the best in the country.

The force has undergone almost £40m of budget cutbacks in the past decade, leading to a new policing structure and the controversial scrapping of more than 150 PCSOs in 2018, to be replaced by around 60 police officers.

Mr Bailey said that although some mistakes had been made in that process, he stood by the PCSOs decision.

Police enter a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice enter a property on the Aylsham Road during an Operation Gravity drugs raid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

He said: "I think we've done really well to protect the core of policing.

"We're still facing a potential significant deficit. The face of crime has changed and continues to change. Something has to give and whilst I have an officer in every neighbourhood in our county, a constant message coming back to me is that we don't see enough of you.

"But actually if you don't see much of us that's a good thing. It means there's nothing going on. Take that as a positive because where you see lots of officers it means there is a need and a demand.

"Through the last 10 years we have cut away not only good flesh. We've had to cut into the bone. An example of that is the fact that my HR and learning resources departments have been cut too deep. As a result of that our ability to train and reinvest in my colleagues has not been what I would like it to have been. That's been my biggest regret.

Former PCSOs on the beat in West Norfolk. Picture: Ian BurtFormer PCSOs on the beat in West Norfolk. Picture: Ian Burt

"But I don't regret the decision the change to the police model so we don't have any PCSOs. Despite it being incredibly hard I stand by what I did and our response to the threats we are now seeing and the success we are having in dealing with them is because I have now got those additional officers."

When asked whether the people of Norfolk were safer now than they were before the cuts were introduced, Mr Bailey said it was impossible to judge given the new types of crime that had emerged during that time.

He said: "Computers, technology and the digital environment have brought about new threats, new crimes and new challenges. You are less likely to have your home broken into. You're less likely to be a victim of a serious acquisitive crime, but we know that domestic abuse is up, we know that adult abuse is up, we know that child abuse is up. Thankfully it's only a tiny percentage of our population that finds themselves a victim of crime."

One significant challenge the force has faced in recent years has been the rise of so-called county lines, where drug dealers from outside Norfolk travel here to target the vulnerable, as well as knife crime associated with it.

The chief described the challenge as "like a game of Whac-A-Mole" but dealing with people who have real-life addictions. He said: "We are doing our level best to stem the supply and stop the violence associated with county lines and drug dealing, but whilst there is demand there will always be supply. We could roll up county lines tomorrow, but there will still be 4,000-plus people in Norfolk addicted to class A drugs that will still need to get their fix from somewhere.

"I think the message (to dealers) has got through, but the trouble is it's the availability of the drugs. It's the purity of the drugs and the fact you'll be offered two bags for a £25 deal.

"I don't believe we can just arrest our way out of this, I subscribe to the belief we need to help these people out of their addiction. I don't want to lock people up who have addictive personalities. We've got to look at the preventative issues and this is a public health challenge. It's for public health to say 'we now have the infrastructure in place to help these people'.

"We have to start looking at the long term societal response rather than it just being a policing problem and this has to start in Westminster."

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Mr Bailey revealed his contract came to an end next year - with retirement from the force being a possibility.

He told the podcast: "I have a contract that takes me through to the autumn of 2021. Mrs Bailey is keen that I retire. I'll have been chief for eight years by then and there's an ongoing debate within the Bailey household. We'll have to wait and see."

On the pros and cons of being in the force, he said: "I do have one regret and that's being away from my family in Northern Ireland for too long. There have been some tough days. It's very difficult when somebody dies in your arms, that's not easy to deal with, but you go home and you talk about it. I always say to family and friends when we have new recruits that they have a role to play. There will be a time when your loved one comes home and they'll want to weep and they'll want to cry and they'll need your support.

"But that said I'd join again tomorrow. It's the most rewarding career and allows you to make such a difference to people in times of need on a daily basis. Even delivering an agony message in the right way can make a difference."

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