'Today is the day I prayed would never come to Norfolk' - union reacts to massive police changes
PUBLISHED: 14:58 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 07:48 20 October 2017
Radical reforms to Norfolk's police force have provoked a furious response from the union - and a note of caution from the county's police and crime commissioner.
Under the proposals announced by chief constable Simon Bailey today, all 150 PCSOs in Norfolk will go, along with seven police stations and seven front counters in stations.
Money will be invested in new buildings and fully-trained officers instead to deal with an increase in demand in complex cases.
But Caren Reeves, Unison branch secretary for Norfolk Police, said the proposed reforms were a huge loss for communities.
“Today is the day that I prayed would never come to Norfolk,” she said.
“The day that we become the first Constabulary to lose our eyes, our ears and boots on the ground, our PCSOs.”
She claimed PCSOs were “the only visible and reassuring policing presence out and about every day in the towns, communities and parishes across our county”.
And she added the closure of seven front counters in police stations would “leave members of the public unable to make enquiries or report local issues in person unless they visit Great Yarmouth, Norwich or King’s Lynn”.
“The majority of the 161 Norfolk police staff affected by these cuts would be unlikely to find other positions within the Constabulary, resulting in financial devastation for their families and the knock-on impact on their local communities,” she said.
“I believe these losses are a direct result of the ongoing unreasonable and insurmountable government cuts to police budgets.
“I ask that you support us during this 45-day consultation period and contact your MP, your councillor, PCC Lorne Green, Chief Constable Simon Bailey and of course your local papers to tell them how you feel about losing these vital police links with our communities.”
•Labour not happy
Reacting to Thursday’s news, Norwich South Labour MP Clive Lewis accused the Government of having “ripped the heart out of community policing in our city and county”.
He said: “The temptation will be to point the finger of blame at local Norfolk Police for these decisions. But the reality is that this would not be happening at all if it weren’t for the £40m of cuts demanded by Theresa May in Downing Street.”
Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow policing minister, said it was the “wrong time” to cut community policing.
“The truth is the police are being forced to make decisions that will damage public engagement and confidence because of prolonged budget cuts,” she said. “The Tories have to take responsibility; you simply cannot protect the public on the cheap.
“This is a dangerous new precedent for police forces as we know the withdrawal from communities has devastating consequences for crime prevention and public safety.”
•Conservative MP hits back
MP for North West Norfolk Sir Henry Bellingham said the reforms were needed to keep up with the changing face of crime.
“The nature of policing has changed quite dramatically in recent years with Norfolk seeing an unprecedented increase in complex crimes, cybercrime and terrorist threats,” he said. “As the criminal landscape changes then so the policing response has to also change. Given that PCSO’s do not have the power to arrest, process or interview prisoners and given they cannot use police cars for pursuits and cannot deploy outside of the county, it must make sense to take this really tough decision to replace the 150 with 81 fully trained Police Constables and Sergeants.”
•What the PCC says
Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Lorne Green, whose job is to hold the force’s leadership to account, said cuts to the force’s budget of £30m and the rise in demand on the force meant changes were needed.
“I understand the rationale behind the changes he (the chief constable) plans to implement.
“I also respect his professional judgement and operational policing experience when he says this is the best way to keep Norfolk safe, and deliver an efficient and effective policing service which is fit for the future.
“I have the chief constable’s assurances that, though the county’s police service will be working differently, visible community policing will continue, and I will hold him to that.
“This is a bold and innovative change programme - the result of a number of tough decisions by the chief constable, not least because of their impact on staff.”
He added: “I will be closely scrutinising the implementation and impacts of the proposed changes and holding the Chief Constable to account over the coming months at public police accountability meetings across the county.”
■ The next Police Accountability Forum meeting will take place on Tuesday November 14 at 5pm at the South Norfolk Council Offices in Long Stratton. It is open to the public and will be followed by a question and answer session with the PCC and Chief Constable from 7pm.