You may have seen on the local and national news details of our chief constable’s letter to the Home Secretary about the future funding of Lincolnshire Police. I thought it might be helpful to provide a local perspective.
First I ought to address some myths. I have seen many comments such as our need to pull in our belts the same as private industry and that we don’t need as many officers because crime is down.
A few weeks ago Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) released its annual report about Lincolnshire Police. The report looks at our effectiveness and efficiency and compares us against the national average.
We currently have 1,100 police officers, 149 PCSOs and 256 police staff in Lincolnshire, covering the third largest geographic area in the country. The HMIC report shows that we have 2.1 officers per 1,000 population, whereas the national average is 3.7 per 1000.
Fair enough, you may think, there isn’t as much crime here as in a city. However, the report goes on to say that officers in Lincolnshire have the third highest workload per officer in the country.
It has sometimes been said that in order to make efficiency savings all we need to do is get officers out from behind their desks. Actually 87 per cent of cops in Lincolnshire are in frontline roles (not all frontline officers are ‘visible’ – for example it includes CID).
The national average is 78 per cent in frontline roles, so yet again, we compare very favourably with other forces. (The 13 per cent non-frontline includes the chief constable and his team. It also includes officers in the licensing department at headquarters. Although they are not regarded as front-line, they regularly join us and Trading Standards in visits and raids on licensed premises).
In local policing, we currently have eight sergeants and 40 constables based in South Holland, stationed at Spalding and Holbeach. This number includes five community beat managers covering The Suttons, Holbeach, Spalding Rural, Spalding Estates and Spalding Town Centre. Only one officer at Spalding (our anti-social behaviour co-ordinator) is in a non-frontline role.
The remaining constables are divided into shifts, providing 24 hour response to emergency and priority incidents across the 284 square miles of South Holland. Additionally, I am able to call on resources from other parts of the force and from specialist teams such as Roads Policing and the Dog Unit.
Chief Constable Neil Rhodes wrote to the home secretary to explain that in future years there could be a £10million funding gap. Putting it bluntly, that’s the equivalent of losing 236 of our 1,100 officers. You can imagine that this would have a significant knock-on effect in South Holland.
There is always going to be a cost to policing. However, when it comes to efficiency, HMIC graded us as ‘outstanding’. We are the lowest-funded force in the country. Fact. Policing in Lincolnshire costs you, me and all council-tax payers, 42p per person per day, compared to the national average of 55p. I think we’re good value!
I have said before that although crime has fallen in South Holland, it doesn’t mean the demand for our services has reduced. When I joined Lincolnshire Police, we had about 30 incidents a day in South Holland. We now have between 60 and 90 most midweek days and more at weekends.
Regular readers will have learned over the past year about much of our work that is not linked to crime, but other incidents such as concerns for welfare, missing children, mental health issues and traffic collisions.
To add some context to these figures, when an officer books on duty on a late shift, for every incident that they are dealing with, there are likely to be two or three other incidents awaiting their attention. Of course, if an emergency incident is then reported, those other incidents will have to wait.
Additionally we have 17 fantastic Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) across South Holland. These officers are on patrol on foot, on bikes and in cars every day. They are the eyes and ears of their communities and in many ways have already replaced the old-style village bobbies.
Mr Rhodes makes it clear that if the cuts to our funding continue:
n Meaningful Neighbourhood Policing as we currently practise it will cease, with no constable community beat managers and just a few PCSOs.
n The spectrum of response times experienced by those calling for our attendance will increase substantially.
n Pro-active patrols (such as Operation Bonus in Spalding) as opposed to response will almost cease.
We don’t know what the future holds. I know that the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner are doing everything they can to secure extra funding to reflect the unique nature of policing a large rural area.
There may be tough decisions ahead and we may have to make changes to some of our working practices regarding which incidents we attend.
In South Holland we will continue to make efficiency savings while striving to provide a gold-standard service, particularly for victims of crime.
My job is to make sure I place the officers we have in the right place at the right time. This isn’t something that I can always achieve because of the demand of emergency incidents, but I remain committed to providing South Holland with the best policing service with the numbers that we have.