Norfolk trial will see police station public enquiry office shut and library staff tasked with helping people report crimes

A pet cat has been shot in Beccles.

A pet cat has been shot in Beccles. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A trial which could pave the way for the closure of public enquiry offices in Norfolk police stations will start next month, with library staff tasked with helping the public to report crimes.

A six-month trial will run from the end of September in Thetford and Gorleston and will involve staff in Norfolk County Council's libraries assisting the public with completing self-reporting forms - which will soon be launched on the police's new website.

Library staff will also be able to help customers with online enquiries about lost and found items, although members of the public will not be able to take these to the libraries.

For the duration of the trial, the public enquiry office at Thetford Police Station, will be temporarily shut. In Gorleston, there is no current public enquiry office.

Last year, the force's chief constable Simon Bailey said a number of police stations in Norfolk could be closed, saying he needed to shut them to protect front-line officer posts.

He said a 'handful' of police stations were likely to close over the next three or four years, having already saved £24m to bridge a funding gap between now and 2020.

The force is shifting to encourage people to report incidents via telephone, social media and online, but is keen that the relatively low number of people who want face-to-face help still get it.

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The police said the trials will mean opening hours are therefore improved by the service provision, with the exception of Wednesdays in Thetford, where the library currently closes at 1pm.

Members of the public who require an emergency response from Norfolk Constabulary should call 999 or dial 101 for less-urgent crime reporting or to speak to a specific officer or member of staff.

Staff associations from both organisations have been engaged and no staffs have been made redundant.

Mr Bailey said: 'The purpose of this pilot is to retain our public enquiry service in a more efficient, collaborative way. We are keen to retain such a service despite facing further significant budget reductions to funding. Over the last five years the Constabulary has saved £25m to bridge the funding gap, with a projected deficit of over £5m still to achieve. This pilot forms part of our work to realise these savings through more efficient working practices with our partners.

'The vast majority of people contact us by telephone and we hope that the new improved website will assist those who are comfortable with self-service, but we still want to be able to provide the opportunity for face-to-face advice for the small number of people who prefer this approach.

'This pilot is precisely the kind of improved partnership working we have all been actively pursuing.'

Norfolk's police and crime commissioner Lorne Green said: 'The link between Norfolk Constabulary and its communities is absolutely critical and it is crucial people feel connected to their police force.

'I also recognise the need for Norfolk Constabulary to innovate and look for efficiencies to make best use of their resources to protect the frontline. This pilot is a welcome example of positive partnership working and I await the results with interest. I would urge people to feed back their thoughts and experiences.'

Staff from the county council and police have worked up the details of the pilot, assessing how the processes and procedures will work.

After the six month pilot, initial results will be presented to chief officers and Norfolk County Council to assess whether this approach is successful.

The views of the public are one of the key success measures being evaluated during the pilot and each member of the public who uses the library service for a police related matter will be asked to complete a short satisfaction survey.

Margaret Dewsbury, cairman of Norfolk County Council's communities committee, said: 'This trial will be a natural extension of the way libraries already help and support people to access a very wide range of public services and as part of its role as a trusted, one-stop source of information in local communities.

'It's also a great example of the way we can help to join up public services and increase their efficiency in these times of austerity.'

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