All PCSOs in Norfolk are to be axed in a radical shake-up of policing in the county that will also see stations closed to the public in Hunstanton, Fakenham and Downham.
The news has been announced today by Chief Constable Simon Bailey as he explained how a start is being made in finding the £10 million in cuts by 2020 imposed by the Government.
Union leaders have expressed their shock at the measures, while the county’s police and crime commissioner said he had been assured that visible community policing will continue.
All 150 PCSOs in Norfolk will disappear. They include 115 ‘frontline’ officers, seen patrolling the streets.
In total, 175 Norfolk Constabulary jobs are at risk, Mr Bailey said.
But this will pay for 96 new police officers to tackle the crime challenges of the future.
Public enquiry offices at Hunstanton, Downham, Fakenham, Dereham, Thetford, Cromer and North Walsham, will be closed, meaning that the only places offering any sort of face-to-face’ service will be stations at Lynn, Bethel Street Norwich, Yarmouth and police HQ at Wymondham.
No station in the county will now be open to the public after 6pm or on Sundays.
Mr Bailey said that Norfolk is the first police force in the country to axe its PCSOs and admitted the ‘new model’ was a radical departure but said that the force had no alternative.
He said he regretted the end of the Dixon of Dock Green-era but added: “The world has changed. I’m a traditionalist but I can’t be a traditionalist any longer. Bricks and morter don’t prevent crime. They give people a feelgood factor but they don’t prevent crime.”
He said that PCSOs had been introduced as a cheaper form of policing but that the latest figures showed very little difference between employing one and a PC. And PCSOs with their limited powers and ‘9-5 hours’ could not be used for the sort of policing that needs to be done in the 21st century.
In the west of the county while there had been a 22 per cent rise in the sort of crimes traditionally dealt with by uniformed officers, such as burglary and auto crime, that had been dwarfed by the 360 per cent rise in ‘safeguarding and investigation crime’, which covers such serious offences as sex crime, cyber crime and drugs.
This was very much in line with the rest of the county. There would be a decrease of 139 officers (down to 859) in the county policing command, who deal with such things a thefts and criminal damage, and a 68 FTE increase in the safeguarding and investigations sector. These would be based at two hubs, one in the east at Postwick and one in the west at Swaffham. The land in Swaffham has already been bought behind Waitrose. It is hoped the £4 million project, funded from reserves, will open by 2020.
Mr Bailey said that in one month this year, 70 rapes were reported to Norfolk police, many of them historical sex abuse. He said that illustrated the chaning face of crime.
“We are future-proofing the organisation,” he said. “I think it is likely we will be the model for other forces in the country but being the first means sticking your head above the parapet.
“We are not going to move policing behind closed doors. We will still be putting our message out there on Twitter and Facebook, contacting people in a different way. It is the nice things such as PCSOs dropping into the WI or a flower club that has to go, simply because we cannot afford it.”
Mr Bailey said that he had told Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green, county MPs and other key stakeholders such as council leaders, about the plans.
Mr Green said he understood Mr Bailey’s view that the current model of policing was no longer sustainable, given the level of savings already made from police budgets.
But he added: “I have the Chief Constable’s assurances that, though the county’s police service will be working differently, visible community policing will continue, and I will hold him to that.”
However, Caren Reeves, secretary of the force’s Unison branch said the announcement would be devastating both for workers affected and their families and the wider community.
And she urged residents to make their voices heard about the proposals by contacting the Chief Constable, the Commissioner and MPs.
She said: “Today is the day that I prayed would never come to Norfolk, the day that we become the first constabulary to lose our eyes, our ears and boots on the ground, our PCSOs.
“I believe these losses are a direct result of the ongoing unreasonable and insurmountable government cuts to police budgets.
“Not only is this a life altering day for my members, my colleagues and their families but for the good people of Norfolk and the visitors to our safe and beautiful county.”