Police chief’s promise to people of Waveney

SUFFOLK's top police officer this week issued a New Year message to people in Waveney – pledging front-line services would not be affected by stringent budget cuts.

Speaking exclusively to The Journal, Chief Constable Simon Ash outlined a four-point plan to make key 'efficiency savings' in the year ahead, while making sure that public concerns continue to be addressed.

Cutting crime and tackling anti-social behaviour remain the top priorities for Suffolk police and, here in Lowestoft and Waveney, detectives will be continuing to target the persistent burglars who bring misery to their victims.

Reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to major challenges for the force in 2012, the chief constable praised the support given by local people in 2011 in helping to maintain Suffolk's status as one of the safest places in the country to live and work.

Reassuring people that front-line officers would be spared the worst of the cuts, he added: 'The commitment I have made is that I am going to do all I can to retain the number of constables, community support officers and safer neighbourhood teams. They are the most visible front line of policing – these officers and staff are what the public interact with.

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'Readers need to be aware of the financial challenges we are facing but I want people to know we have got a good plan that will navigate us through these difficult times. We will do all we can to keep Suffolk the safe county you enjoy.'

During a visit to Lowestoft last week, the chief constable joined officers carrying out patrols in the town centre which have been organised to combat shoplifters and purse thieves over the busy festive season.

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Looking back on the last 12 months, Mr Ash said: 'The level of crime in Suffolk is at the lowest it has been in a decade and the most recent survey carried out showed over 93pc of people in the county feel safe in the areas where they live – that's a massive tribute to the way the local officers are policing these communities.

'These are excellent levels of performance and we have only achieved these through strong support from you and other members of our community. We really value that support you give us.'

The big challenge for the force now was to cut or maintain those levels in the face of big funding cuts – as it faced a 20pc cut in government support.

'We are still seeing crime go down in the county, and as crime continues to fall that is a tribute to the really hard- working, dedicated officers and staff we have,' Mr Ash said.

'But we are facing a massive challenge of having to cut over �13.5m from our budget over the next four years. We have a plan to achieve this but it's going to be a big challenge and what we are seeking to do is preserve our ability to fight crime and still address the things that really matter to you.'

Mr Ash said the force would be adopting a four-pronged approach to make savings. These include reducing the number of managers and supervisors; continuing to cooperate with Norfolk police by creating more joint operational and specialist units; setting up a 'shared platform' of support services between the two forces – for finance, human resources, fleet management and corporate communications – and reviewing the force estate with a view to 'reducing its size to reduce our costs' while ensuring that it remains 'fit for 21st century policing'.

'If I can drive costs from this part of the business, it means I can retain more people in the front line of policing,' Mr Ash said.

During his visit to Lowestoft, Mr Ash also met Waveney and Suffolk Coastal Superintendent Phil Aves to discuss the ongoing battle to combat house burglaries in the district – which remains the priority area for local detectives.

'I know, having spoken to the superintendent, that a small number of people are making a disproportionate impact on peoples' lives but I think we have already seen a number of good results recently and we will continue patrols and other work to catch those responsible,' he said.

After joining the patrols in Lowestoft the town centre, the chief constable added: 'This was an opportunity to come to Lowestoft, meet up with PC Nikola Carrier, the town centre officer, as we are particularly interested in ensuring safety in the town centre over the Christmas and New Year period.

'The focus is on tackling shoplifting and targeting thieves, which is part of a regular campaign in the run-up to Christmas in towns across the county. 'I am sure the towns are safe, and people feel safe, but by walking around patrolling the streets in fluorescent jackets we have been approached a number of times about all manner of things.'

Having this high-visibility presence was 'vital', he said.

'It fits into the bigger picture of safer neighbourhood teams across the county – a very clear strategy that ensures we are at the heart of communities, town centres and market towns,' Mr Ash said.

'This is something that continues to serve us well. Local people look to identify with a named officer, their PCSO is someone they can speak to regularly to discuss issues and provide reassurance.'

•What do you think? Are Suffolk police getting it right where you live? And do you feel reassured by the chief constable's pledge that front-line policing will not be affected by spending cuts? Write to Postbox. The Journal, 147, London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or email max.bennett@archant.co.uk including your name and address.

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