Norfolk Police scraps PCSOs, closes seven stations and shuts front desks in radical reform

Norfolk is the first force in the country to propose getting rid of all PCSOs. Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk is the first force in the country to propose getting rid of all PCSOs. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Norfolk's police chief today revealed massive changes to the way the force will run.

They include becoming the first force in the country to get rid of all Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), closing seven stations and shutting front desks to the public.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey said it was the biggest change to the force in decades and one of his hardest days in the job.

The proposals, which will save £2m a year and come from the biggest review in the force's history, would come into effect from April next year after consultation with staff.

They include:

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• Scrapping all 150 PCSOs

• Replacing them with 81 new police officers and 16 non-officer roles

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• Shutting front counters at seven Norfolk police stations, with loss of 26 jobs, and closing seven other stations

• Moving a further seven police stations

• Strengthening teams investigating serious crimes after a surge in reported abuse cases

• Creating two new police investigation hubs - one in Swaffham and one at Broadland Gate Business Park - to deal with more safeguarding investigations.

• What's behind the changes?

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey said the failures of two investigations into Hugh O'Neill in 19

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey said the failures of two investigations into Hugh O'Neill in 1993 and 2002 are "a matter of great regret". Photo: Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Mr Bailey said the changes were being brought about by further cuts to the force's budget, rising reports of more serious crimes including sex offences and drugs, as well as technological changes.

The force has saved £30m since 2010 but needs to find another £10m by 2020.

Many of the cuts up to now have been made in the back office and by merging functions between Norfolk and Suffolk police.

But now the cuts are hitting the frontline.

As well as cuts, Norfolk police has seen a 357pc rise in crimes which need to be looked into by its safeguarding and investigation team.

They lead complex investigations into rape, serious violent crime, stalking and online abuse. In one month this year, Norfolk Police had 70 reports of rape.

'I have to investigate high risk and high harm crimes,' Mr Bailey said.

The safeguarding and abuse teams will be strengthened with 31 more officers and staff, while there will be 139 fewer staff on less serious crimes. Police say employing more staff to investigate serious and complex cases will free up frontline staff.

They believe money is not best spent on PCSOs who are unable to arrest or interview prisoners.

• PCSOs go

Norfolk is the first force in the country to scrap PCSOs.

The force said the cost of employing PCSOs had risen, meaning they now cost almost as much to employ as a police officer but have more limited powers.

The changes will save £1.6m and would leave the force with 859 officers down from almost 1,000 now. But under the proposed changes, Norfolk would have an extra 81 officers, with 64 PCs, 16 sergeants and one new chief inspector. They will also have 16 new staff supporting them.

The way Norfolk is policed will also change with police spending less time visiting local communities and more on solving serious crimes.

Tactically there will be also be more focus on operations to prevent crimes before they take place - something already tried out in Operation Gravity, against London drug gangs.

Those types of operations need fully-trained officers, rather than PCSOs, the force said.

Challenged on the changes meaning a withdrawal of police from the community, Mr Bailey said neighbourhood policing teams would be strengthened with 25 extra officers to make up for loss of PCSOs.

A 1pc pay rise for police officers, announced by the Government in September, also meant Mr Bailey and his team had to find further savings.

He said it meant the force could no longer afford to attach a police officer to every secondary school in the county.

Police said some of the 176 staff numbers whose roles are at risk could be redeployed.

• Stations shut

Under the proposals, police stations will close for good in Acle, Caister, Bowthorpe, Tuckswood and North Lynn.

Two other stations, currently used for storage, will also shut and be sold. They are Coltishall and Europa Way in Norwich.

The force will sell the buildings and use £12m of its reserves to build two new investigation hubs at Broadland Gate Business Park and Swaffham to House all CID, child abuse and sexual abuse teams in the two locations rather than having them across the county.

The Swaffham building near Waitrose will cost £3.5m and the Broadland Gate Building £4.7m, with another £1m needed for IT costs. Police hope to have the buildings complete before 2020.

Police said the construction of the NDR would reduce travel times, meaning detectives could still get around, despite not being in local stations.

Meanwhile Sprowston station will relocate to the new building at Broadland Gate and Swaffham to the new hub there.

Reepham, Attleborough and Holt stations would all move to new buildings at the fire stations in those towns.

Gorleston station could also close and relocate to Beacon Park while Hurricane Way station will shut and move to Bethel Street in Norwich City centre.

Bethel Street station will be redeveloped along with King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and North Walsham which has already been redeveloped.

• Front desks close

Along with station closures seven out of Norfolk's 10 front counters, called public enquiry offices, will shut.

They will close at Hunstanton, Downham Market, Thetford, Dereham, Fakenham, Cromer and North Walsham. In their place surgeries will be held and 26 staff will lose their jobs.

It will mean the county has just three police front desks left open to the public - King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth and Norwich. None will be open on Sundays.

Two years ago, Attleborough, Diss, Gorleston and Swaffham police stations all closed their front counters.

Police said they could now engage more with communities on social media and if they kept the counters open more police officers would have to be cut.

Police trialled the closure of Thetford front counter last year for four months and they estimate around 48,000 people visited the counters last year and almost 33,000 were in the three staying open.

They also said their control room could deal with the increase in calls they expect from closing the counters.

Mr Bailey said: 'I know how much communities value police stations and public enquiry officers but I have to balance that against the changing face of crime and I can't afford to have someone sitting behind a desk in a police station where they have one visit an hour.'

Suffolk police, meanwhile, said they had not made any decisions yet about staffing levels for the next financial year.

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