I often say how fortunate we are to live in such a great county. Suffolk has one of the lowest levels of recorded crime in the whole of the United Kingdom and I believe there are two main reasons for this fortunate state of affairs.
The first reason is because we have a really dedicated Constabulary that has a flexible, positive attitude and simply gets on with the job of keeping us all safe in whatever way is necessary. The other is a result of Suffolk’s unique character where the vast majority of people are genuinely concerned about other residents who might be less fortunate or more vulnerable than themselves, and where the sense of community and purpose is so very obvious. This state of affairs is something we should all treasure and it certainly needs to be maintained.
So when the changes to our county policing - the Suffolk Local Policing Review (SLPR) - was announced on December 4th, I knew it would be a very testing time for all of us and I’d like to explain the background for this major transformation.
The government has asked Suffolk Constabulary to make savings of £20.5million during the next five years - a reduction of 17% of our total budget. Make no mistake this is a formidable challenge and for this transformation to be successful it will need a herculean effort by the whole workforce and genuine support from the public, but I am very confident we will deal with the challenge successfully and still uphold Suffolk’s reputation for being one the safest places in the county to live and work in.
Inevitably this situation has resulted in making difficult choices and doing away with some luxuries that are now no longer affordable - especially during a time of reduced resources. Our plans to transform policing is the culmination of months of hard work and has included a huge amount of public consultation during the year. There have been extensive surveys and engagement with businesses, the voluntary sector and other partners in the public sector and of equal importance were the numerous internal meetings and feedback from within the Constabulary to help shape the review.
Of course it goes without saying, I’d much rather we weren’t in this position and there were no financial pressures, but that just isn’t the case – we must live within our means like any household or business. In the end this review of local policing will make a savings contribution of £5 million by the end of March 2018. I have listened to the advice of senior officers - they are the operational policing professionals - and balanced their views with my role as Commissioner looking after the public interest and holding the Chief Constable to account.
The review is not solely about the pound notes. We face a huge change in the pattern of crime as traditional forms of crime decline newer types of crime are increasing at an alarming rate – this includes internet enabled crimes, social media crime, fraud and cyber crime. On top of this we all know about the difficulties the security agencies face with border control and the sexual exploitation of young children - sadly a global phenomenon - so policing has to change to reflect the new crime landscape whether we like it or not.
Earlier on I mentioned difficult choices. There will be a reduction in the number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) we have in Suffolk at the moment, from 148 to around 100. PCSOs perform an invaluable task by linking with communities and acting as the eyes and ears for the Constabulary. Ultimately decisions for operational matters lie with the Chief Constable and I do know he felt there should be a better balance of the powers and skills within the workforce required to keep us safe. I am deeply aware that the human cost is very, very painful for the individuals involved. To try and mitigate this loss of employment there has been a recruitment freeze for some time so around 25 vacancies that are available to those who are at risk, so keeping the level of redundancies to a minimum.
It is with great regret that the front desks are only being kept open in our three major police stations at Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft and Ipswich. The closure of the other, smaller front desks will save nearly £750,000, which is the equivalent of keeping 15 police officers employed. Our smaller stations receive very few visitors every day so these will close but the buildings will remain operational - so officers will still be based locally.
In conclusion please remember there are some very positive parts of this policing review. Improving road safety is of concern to all of us, so next year there will be an additional roads policing unit based in the west of the county, a rural crime team based in West Suffolk, extra resources are being invested in the cyber-crime unit and there is a major increase in the capacity of the investigations unit to help improve detection rates.
Full details of the review are at www.suffolk-pcc.gov.uk
-- Tim Passmore is Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk