‘We’re getting bobbies back on beat’ says Norfolk crime commissioner

Police officers on the beat.

Police officers on the beat. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk is seeing more officers back on the beat, the police and crime commissioner has said.

Increasing the visibility of police is a top priority in the new crime plan for Norfolk of Giles Orpen-Smellie who has reiterated his determination to fulfil public demands to see more officers in communities.

“I really believe in visible policing because that is what the public who pay for policing want to see. Everyone in Norfolk would like the assurance of seeing more officers,” he said. 

Norfolk police and crime commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie

Norfolk police and crime commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie - Credit: Norfolk Police

It comes as a trend towards lower visibility policing has seen the number of ‘bobbies on the beat’ fall by a third in the past five years, according to data from Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary.

Though not new, calls for a return to more visible policing have gained additional political traction with Labour leader Keir Starmer writing in the Express last week: “We will restore neighbourhood policing, setting up new Neighbourhood Police Hubs in all local areas backed - routinely patrolling town centres and other areas to tackle the issues that blight our areas.”

Extra officers to boost visibility

Mr Orpen-Smellie, who took over the role setting out the way crime is tackled in Norfolk last May, said recruiting more officers and reducing paperwork was already boosting police presence on the streets.

Police officers on patrol in Norwich.

Police officers on patrol in Norwich. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk is set to get a further 224 new officers under the government’s police uplift programme taking the total to 1,790.

However this will still be lower than the 1,812 the force had in 2010, while police community support officers (PCSOs) were scrapped in Norfolk under previous chief constable Simon Bailey and PCC Lorne Green.

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“Within that limited resource yet huge public expectation the chief constable is looking for means of increasing police visibility,” said the PCC.

“Using the Safe Streets scheme, where we have asked the public to tell us where they feel unsafe, has been used to target police officer presence.”

Yarmouth police on patrol in Great Yarmouth

Patrols have been stepped up in areas where people feel less safe are being flagged via the Street Safe online tool. - Credit: Norfolk Police

Officers have carried out more than 700 patrols at 651 locations reported via the online tool, police have said. 

They are also being encouraged to go on the beat and share posts on social media to reassure the public under The Park, Walk, Talk initiative introduced by chief constable Paul Sanford. 

“So rather than police cars screaming through villages but not stopping they actually get out and find people to talk to,” said Mr Orpen-Smellie.

“They then use social media to say that they’ve been there and put photos up, so not just physically and geographically but also through virtual means they reach the public to say we are out here and the police are doing their job.”

Chief Constable Paul Sanford with Pc Alex McNulty at Kings Lynn bus station as part of Street Safe patrol.

Chief Constable Paul Sanford with Pc Alex McNulty at Kings Lynn bus station as part of Street Safe patrol. - Credit: Norfolk Police

Police officer body says they're 'thinly spread'

Demands to spend more time in communities comes as the Norfolk Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, has called for an “informed open debate” over what the public wants the force to concentrate on.

It has warned up to 40pc of officers’ time is now taken up on mental health calls while desk-bound officers are ‘bogged down in paperwork’.

“Preventing and detecting crimes should always be our bread and butter but with us being so thinly spread we risk losing the confidence of the public,” warned federation chair Andy Symonds.

Norfolk Police Federation chair Andy Symonds

Norfolk Police Federation chair Andy Symonds - Credit: Norfolk Police Federation

Mr Orpen-Smellie said extra help had been brought in to free up officers spending long periods dealing with paperwork after arrests.

“The current process is quite bureaucratic, my view is unnecessarily so,” he said. “So one of things I asked for from the police precept increase was to employ 11 civilian staff to take the burden off officers.

“I hope this will release officers faster back onto the streets to do their core business.”

Roger Wiltshire says police officers need support from the criminal justice system Pict

Police officers on patrol in Great Yarmouth.  - Credit: Nick Butcher

However the PCC warned fewer officers and growing pressures to tackle hidden crimes like domestic violence meant there could be no return to ‘Dixon of Dock Green’-style policing in Norfolk.

“The problem that I and the chief constable have is that the constabulary's core business is not actually to be seen, it is to tackle crime,” he said. 

“And a lot of the areas where people would like to see police officers are, I'm delighted to say, actually very safe.”