‘We need more police, not less’ - reaction to news that PCSOs in Cambs will be halved

Cambridgeshire Constabulary chief constable Nick Dean. Picture: Cambs Cops

Cambridgeshire Constabulary chief constable Nick Dean. Picture: Cambs Cops - Credit: Archant

‘We have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions over the past 12 months - we simply could not continue with the existing neighbourhood policing model,’ - chief constable Nick Dean.

The mayor of St Neots has raised concerns about plans to halve the number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) in Cambridgeshire.

Stephen Ferguson believes that the community “needs more police, not less”.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary announced today (October 21) it plans to reduce the current number of PCSOs to 40, permanently close nine enquiry offices and disband a community safety team.

Chief constable Nick Dean has said he also wants to shake up the neighbourhood policing model “to ensure budget gaps can be met next year and beyond”.

Cllr Ferguson said: “On January 9 2019, the then Police and Crime Commissioner, Jason Ablewhite, committed to a new police station for St Neots. The news today is that a cost-saving operation will see the number of PCSOs across the county slashed from 80 down to 40.

“At a time when everyone is concerned about the rise in anti-social behaviour, and the non-investigation of crimes that hurt us all, this seems like a critical blow. We need more police not less.

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“What went so badly wrong with our society that meant that we can no longer afford to police our streets?”

The changes, many to do with internal force working, are part of a bid to save £1.7m next year.

Staff are being consulted on the changes.

Mr Dean said the force will receive a proportion of the 20,000 extra police officers promised by the Government but Cambridgeshire “also needs to make considerable cost savings to avoid using financial reserves”.

Public facing proposed changes include:

Reduction of PCSOs from 80 to 40 but with the guarantee of at least one in “every single neighbourhood”.

Removal of the community safety team, resulting in the reduction of six community safety officer posts across the force

Closure of nine enquiry offices (NOT the police stations) with the promise of an appointment-based service in each area to enable the public to speak with an officer.

Enquiry officer numbers will be cut from 17 to 11.

Changes are also being made to the special constabulary and what are termed “area command cells” will run in the north and south of county.

Policing education qualifications will also be rolled out as an entry route into the profession.

Mr Dean said: “We have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions over the past 12 months. We simply could not continue with the existing neighbourhood policing model with the budget constraints we currently face, and are likely to have in the coming years.”

He said the changes were to have been announced in April but were delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are very aware the timing of this announcement in the current climate is not good, however, in order to meet budget deficit demands, there is no alternative,” he said.

“We simply could not continue with the existing financial modelling.”

He said that since 2018, the number of police officers across neighbourhood policing teams has, and continues to increase from 57 (April 2018) to an expected 132 in April 2021. This came from a combination of savings achieved from the Local Policing Review and the precept increases.

Chief Constable Dean said: “No police stations will close because of these plans.

“Enquiry offices which have been affected by these plans will remain open for appointments and we are committed to holding regular surgeries to engage with the public.

“Footfall in some of the stations is incredibly low and we believe deploying officers out into the community is a far more effective use of resource.

“We are absolutely committed to neighbourhood policing, tackling crime in our communities and keeping the people of Cambridgeshire safe.”

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Jeff Keighley challenged plans to halve PCSO (Police Community Support Officer) numbers and disband the community safety team.

He said: “It’s no good recruiting more police officers only to have to slash the numbers of staff doing vital work for the force in support of officers on the beat.

“A decade of austerity has already cut Cambridgeshire’s police force to the bone, any more will inevitably result in a worse service to the public.

He added: “Fewer PCSOs and enquiry officers will make it harder for members of the public — particularly the elderly and vulnerable — to access the police when they need them.

“PCSOs have proven themselves to be a vital part of British policing, acting as its eyes and ears in the community.

“They visit schools and make neighbourhoods safer, tackling the anti-social behaviour that blights lives but which police officers often don’t have time to deal with.

“At a time when a well-resourced network of PCSOs should be helping people comply with ever-changing Covid-19 regulations, cutting numbers further simply makes no sense.”