Police chief warns tough choices ahead

Norfolk's new top police officer yesterday ruled out cuts to frontline officer numbers but said tough decisions would need to be made in the face of a financial crisis.

Norfolk's new top police officer yesterday ruled out cuts to frontline officer numbers but said tough decisions would need to be made in the face of a financial crisis.

In his first interview since becoming chief constable in January, Ian McPherson said his top priority was ensuring the successful introduction of safer neighbourhoods teams across the county.

But he added that major changes would have to be made to ensure the force remains cost effective in light of the government's decision to slash £1m from the proposed budget to fund the recruitment of 280 police community support officers county-wide.

Mr McPherson said he had no intention of taking advantage of new Home Office rules allowing forces to reduce officer numbers but said other options, such as bringing in outside agencies to carry out administrative functions, must be seriously examined.

“My biggest challenge as chief constable will be completing the roll out of safer neighbourhood teams particularly in the face of the financial constraints we must operate under,” he added.

Norfolk Police Authority has already announced plans to increase its council tax precept by 7pc in order to meat the funding shortfall - leading to concern from many members of the public over the value for money such teams will represent.

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Mr McPherson said: “I believe the public does want these teams and that the safer neighbourhoods scheme is financially sustainable in the long-term.

“But we have got to look at the way we deliver our service and changes will have to be made over the coming years. This could include bringing in outside help and making sure we use the resources we have more efficiently.

“I am not looking to reduce officer numbers, although it is impossible to rule out all eventualities.”

One initiative already announced is devolving Norfolk's mobile support unit - a team of officers aimed at targeting crime hotspots - back into local sectors. Earlier this week a member of the team criticised this decision saying it would play into the hands of officers.

Mr McPherson said he was confident the newly devolved officers would continue to help tackle serious crime but would also help the force meeting its “other priorities”. He said other units may have to be reviewed in the drive to make the force more efficient.

He added that plans for an East Anglian superforce - which would see Norfolk merge with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - we likely to re-emerge.

“I cannot say whether that will happen in the short, medium or long-term but I certainly think it will come back on the agenda at some point,” he said.

“I am somebody who believes a larger force with locally based community teams and divisions which are closely linked to those communities could have huge benefits. We certainly need to go down the road of looking at how we can collaborate and share resources with neighbouring forces.”