Police cuts will push up crime in Westcountry – watchdog
Crime in Devon and Cornwall could rise by six per cent as the force axes one-in-five of its police officers over the next four years, new research suggests.
Devon and Cornwall Police is to shed 20 per cent of its officers – 700 from a high of 3,550 last March – to meet Government imposed savings of nearly £50 million by 2015. Some 500 police staff posts are also being slashed.
But research issued along with a report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary indicated that could result in a six per cent increase in offences, with crime rising by three per cent for every 10 per cent of officers lost. PC David James, secretary of the federation in Devon and Cornwall, said a rise in crime was "almost inevitable" as the force returned to officer numbers last seen nearly 30 years ago.
"Last year's six per cent fall in crime in Devon and Cornwall testifies to the extremely hard work of the thin blue line, with every frontline officer, particularly those officers working 24/7, defending the public from criminality of every type," he said.
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"Alas the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) report confirms our worst fears. Cuts being implemented by this Government will turn the clock back a decade by reducing police officers and police staff by more than 34,000 nationally by 2015.
"The effect in Devon and Cornwall will be to reduce police officer numbers to 2,810, a level last seen in the early 1980s.
"It will also mean that in 2015 we will have the lowest police officer to head of population ratio in England and Wales. It will change the way we police here, leading to an almost inevitable rise in crime as the population continues to increase and police numbers fall."
He added: "The headlong flight to save money, combined with too much endless tinkering and not enough thoughtful examination, will lead to a poorer service."
The HMIC report – Adapting to Austerity – detailed police officer job losses of 16,200 across the 43 forces in England and Wales as part of Government cuts.
Up to 1,800 community support officers and 16,100 police staff will also go as part of an overall reduction of 14 per cent.
Inspectors said protecting frontline policing will be "very challenging" over the next 18 months, adding: "Forces will have to transform their efficiency if they are to protect frontline services."
To cope with the massive reduction in budget, Devon and Cornwall has already moved to a new policing structure.
Overall numbers of constables working on response – those who deal with emergencies – have been reduced from 1,340 to 776.
Some 250 of those have been moved into "local policing", nearly doubling their number, alongside 350 police community support officers. Another 270 are being moved into CID, boosting their strength to 594.
Inspectors, who made an announced visit in January this year, said the force showed a "clear understanding of the financial challenge facing them" and had developed an ambitious change programme to address it.
Chief Constable Stephen Otter said the restructuring was "probably the most fundamental change to policing in Devon and Cornwall in decades".
But he said it was necessary "to ensure we continue to give the public the best possible policing service".
He said: "There is no doubt we face challenging times in terms of financial pressure, maintaining our high performance across many areas and ensuring our public stay confident in their local police, but we have been preparing for this for the last three years.
"This report highlights that the constabulary and the authority are making tough, but productive decisions to make sure the public see as little impact as possible on the service they get from their police.
"The cost of our workforce per head of population is already one of the lowest in country, but we are introducing new ways of working as we want to reach as many people and communities as possible and provide the public with a policing service they would expect, despite the lessening resources we have."