Suffolk police cuts fears

RESIDENTS are being warned to be realistic about the level of service Suffolk Police can provide as the force battles to operate within an increasingly tough financial climate.

The warning comes from the Suffolk Police Federation which fears brutal cuts foisted on an already cash-strapped force by last week's Government Spending Review will be a watershed for the county.

It says the force will be forced to operate with fewer police officers and fears those currently working in specialist roles will be drafted back on to the streets to bolster falling numbers.

Assistant Chief Constable Stewart Gull said the constabulary had already begun to address the funding gap after anticipating the dire financial situation, conceding that a 'shrinking'' workforce would require new ways of thinking.

'Strong strategic leadership is going to be vital in delivering the magnitude of change that will be necessary,'' said ACC Gull.

'Our collaboration programme with Norfolk and other regional partners has already brought significant benefits to a number of teams, which have realised efficiencies without affecting specialist areas. This collaboration will continue.

'We already have a large number of police support staff in frontline roles and strive to obtain a good balance of officers and police staff.

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'In the future, we will experience a shrinking workforce which will require new thinking and ways of working.''

He was speaking as Matt Gould, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, warned that falling police numbers would require the force to 'manage'' public expectation of what it could do.

'The impact of a substantial budget reduction, year on year, for four years concerns us and our members. Over 80% of budget is staffing costs and it seems inevitable that we will lose officers.

'We fear that teams of officers in non-uniform roles working in specialist areas of policing will become a reservoir to replace the natural losses from response and safer neighbourhood teams due to retirements.

'This will have a detrimental impact on those who need these specialists.

'We believe other public bodies, who are under as much pressure as we are, will have to reconsider the roles they play in areas such as partnerships. This could have a detrimental knock-on effect. We feel that the budget cuts will mean that there will be a greater reliance on support staff to do more in place of police officers.

'On the positive side there are opportunities for police officers to benefit from reductions in bureaucracy.

'Conversely, with natural wastage coupled with zero recruitment there will be fewer officers remaining and this will drive the force's requirement to manage public expectation about what we can reasonably be expected to do. Every police officer in Suffolk also has at the back of their mind the personal effect on them of potential internal changes.

'The police pensions that they pay 11% of their wages into are also under attack and are not the gold plated pensions that people are led to believe.

'We are already short of officers compared to other similar-sized forces, but we are one of the safest and most efficient. The concern we have is how much smaller can we get before service levels are compromised.'

However, ACC Gull said the force was already putting in place measures to limit the impact of the cuts, including strategies such as community resolutions where officers deal with low-level crimes without resorting to prosecuting offenders.

'In September 2009 we created a Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB) which enables people to report low-level crime over the telephone, eliminating the need for officer attendance. Due to its success, the force has increased its solved rate of crime by 3% in 12 months to 31.6%, while officer workloads have not increased.

'In September 2009, we introduced the community resolution programme which allows staff to deal with low-level crime efficiently and effectively, subject to the views of the victim and offender.

'As a direct result of our partnership and Safer Neighbourhood Teams, anti-social behaviour has been reduced by 12% this year to date.'

Mr Gull also said response times were better than the national target and pledged police would continue providing the best possible service it could within its budget.

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