Kettering’s Town Forum was given a briefing by the local Police Inspector this week about how policing will change in Kettering.
These changes are being forced on the police primarily by budget cuts, but also from a need to adapt to different forms of criminality and policing techniques. There will be a reduction in officers on the beat, but the police hope that there will not be a reduction in their capabilities.
She started by explaining how much policing had changed during the last twenty years she had been in the job and how these changes were likely to continue in the future. The police spend more time on crime prevention these days than they used to, and this has meant the need for a new structure based on the evidence and statistics of actual crimes.
They intend to deliver improved efficiency while still protecting people from harm. There is to be a great emphasis on Community Officers and PCSOs with each geographical area having their own nominated officers who will not be moved to other areas except in times of great emergency.
The idea of this is in part to mitigate the reduction in police numbers. This is because even though there will be fewer officers, the fact that they will not be taken away should mean the total number of hours provided by the local community teams will remain the same.
There will also be a greater emphases on technology with officers having laptops and tablets to do their paperwork so will not have to go back to the police station, but will able to do their work in local community hubs (schools, hospitals etc) where they will be in contact with the public and accessible far more than if they were in a back office somewhere. The whole idea is to have a stronger focus on community engagement.
Technology will also provide the police with mapping software to give them a ‘Vulnerable Location Matrix’ to allow them to spend time in the actual areas they are more needed.
The inspector went on to say that apart from these highly visible community teams there were lots of other teams working behind the scenes who the public rarely see. Plain clothed detectives, domestic abuse teams, and the sexual exploitation team and of course officers working on cyber crime who spent most of their time tucked away in front of a computer screen.
However she did also announce there would be a further reduction in front desk support. The front desk was moved a while ago from the London Road Police station to inside the council office which has already led to the desk being open far less, because of course the council building is open far less than the police station used to be.
However those hours are to be reduced further as a cost saving exercise, although the defence for this appears to be that in surveys only 4% of people say their first method of contact with the police would be at the desk.
It was also explained that because of pressures on manpower, the police would also have less time to attend meetings such as Parish and Town Councils as they will have to be more selective about what they can do in the future.
For me the fact there is to be a return to dedicated local officers is a great thing. It has been very difficult for councillors and others to know who to contact about relatively small things and to pass on low level pieces of local intelligence on to.
I also welcome the use of technology and the fact police offices will spend less time in the back of a police station. Hopefully we’ll see them in public places such as coffee shops and other busy town centre and community locations doing their paper work. Sitting on a park bench in Mill Road Park could be a good location for example.
However I am worried by the reductions in police staff and the underlying message that this efficiency agenda is being pushed by budget cuts. Also I am worried by the further admittance that the police will have more difficult decisions to make about prioritising their work simply because they realise they can’t do everything, or indeed some of the things they used to do.
We are getting more and more used to austerity cuts in our public services and while these cuts often go un-noticed by some people, I suspect these cuts and any repercussions from them may be felt by some more than others.
Mick Scrimshaw is the Leader of the Labour Group at Kettering Borough Council, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance at Northamptonshire County Council. He has a public record of standing up for Kettering as a County Councillor for the Northall division in Kettering, Northants and since May 2015, a Borough Councillor for the William Knibb ward. He is a keen cyclist and also runs a family business with his wife.