Future of police stations are safe “on my watch” says Cambs police commissioner Jason Ablewhite

Police and Crime Commissioner 
Jason Ablewhite
Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite

Replacing PCSOs with police officers will give Cambridgeshire Constabulary the flexibility it needs to put more officers on the frontline.

That was the promise from Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite, who was speaking after this week’s announcement that the county’s police force is to shed nearly 50 PCSOs following a major review of the service.

Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Alec Wood.

Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Alec Wood.

Mr Ablewhite also promised there would be no police station closures “not on my watch” and that Fenland is likely to have two response bases one in March and one in Wisbech instead of the one it has at the moment in March.

Mr Ablewhite explained that PCSOs are ironically more expensive than a fully warranted police officer, particularly in their early years of employment but they are not so flexible in their deployment as they do not have powers of arrest, can not carry out warranted duties such as searches and do not have the power of entry.

“This is why we need more PCs they are much more effective. The idea was when PCSOS were introduced 15 years ago that they would provide a visible presence in communities at a reasonable cost. That has changed they are doing more and more work that should really be carried out by police officers including investigation and are not doing the community work they were originally aimed at doing. The aim is to recruit 50 more police officers by April next year.

“We will be reducing the number of PCSOs from 126 to 80 but that will be through natural wastage, people leaving will no be replaced - no one will be losing their jobs.

“So in the short term at least we will not only have over 100 PCSOs we will have 50 more constables. Eventually we would like to see that increase further to 100 more. The 80 remaining PCSOs will be more focused in the community, especially in rural areas like Fenland,” said Mr Ablewhite.

His “aspiration” is to continue to have two front counters for the public to access in Fenland.

Mr Ablewhite said one of the biggest challenges he faces is trying to convince the government to properly fund Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

“I get 43p per head of the population, the average nationally is 55p per head. It is not by accident that this is one of the safest places to live in the country, it takes a lot of work and effort and in order for it to remain safe we need proper funding. The vast majority of the money I get to spend on policing comes from the government, which is why it is important to put the pressure on to get our fair share.

“I’m not asking for any more than other places I just want to see Cambridgeshire receive the average 55p, having that extra money could equate to around 200 more frontline police officers.”

Mr Ablewhite is also keen to work more closely with other services and is convinced putting the governance of the county’s fire service under his wing makes the most sense and will allow for a closer working partnership including the sharing of resources to help cut costs.

“I’m really hoping that I will get the go-ahead for joint governance of the two services, we can then re-evaluate and draw up a joint strategy,” he said.

He was also highly critical of other services who shunt their responsibilities on to the police.

“We should not be the first port of call for someone in mental health crisis - unless of course they are a danger to others. The first port of call should be the mental health emergency team, but more often than not we are called to an incident and an officer is stuck there to look after a person until the mental health people can attend.

“That is not right, we want our partner agencies to stop shunting things they should be dealing with on to us, that way our officers can concentrate on what they should be doing and that is police work,” said Mr Ablewhite.

Panel

The policing review was commissioned last year following concerns about the level of demand facing the county’s police force including the pressure it was putting on the control room, frontline services and investigations.

The review was taksed with designing a model that would deliver a demand-led and victim-focused service which provided much needed support to the frontline.

Unveiling the plans Chief Constable Alec Wood said: “Despite the recent ‘good’ grading by HMICFRS for efficiency, our current policing model is no longer sustainable and is hampering our ability to manage our demand. Like forces across the country, Cambridgeshire faces an unprecedented workload and, as a result, officers and staff are working long hours and juggling heavy workloads.

“We remain committed to protecting the most vulnerable people and targeting the most serious offenders. But this means we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot attend, and make some difficult decisions about our future structure.

“The focus of this review and the proposed model is putting more officers on the frontline to enable us to provide the public with the best service possible.”

The proposed model has been designed using feedback from officers and staff, demand and resource mapping, visits to other forces and a review of existing data from within the force.

The first phase will go live from April 30 next year and includes:

• Additional constables to be deployed to the areas of greatest risk and need - frontline, child protection, rape investigation and partnership and operational support.

• Creation of single force model split into two areas - allows for more efficient and effective governance and reduced supervisory and senior management posts - committing more resources to the frontline.

• Creation of MET Hub – focusing on Missing, Exploited and Trafficked children to protect those children most at risk of harm and focus on those offenders who target them.

• Retention in the role of PCSOs to deliver highly effective model of neighbourhood policing and problem solving. Continued commitment to community safety. • Creation of community action teams in the north and south. Officers will be deployed as a result of routine detailed analysis of community intelligence.

• Front counter provision retained in every district council area.

• Revised shift patterns with improved alignment to demand.

• Reduced number of response bases allowing for maximum efficiency in response deployment.

• Retention of serious and organised crime, cyber and fraud, surveillance teams to continue to tackle serious and organised crime gangs.