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Police Commissioner agrees counter move

Police Commissioner agrees counter move

🕔20.Nov 2014

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has taken the most significant decision of his short tenure in the job by agreeing to close two-thirds of the force’s remaining front office counters on the grounds that hardly anyone ever visits them.

The move, which will save £3 million, brings to an end the ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ era when the public had the comfort of knowing they could report a crime at their nearest police station 24 hours a day.

Twenty-seven out of 41 front desks will close across the force area putting 90 jobs at risk.

Ten front office counters will stay. Nine will be open from 08:00 to 22:00 and one for 24 hours a day. Four desks currently run by volunteers will also stay open.

The decision was regarded as highly sensitive by senior officers, mindful of the imagery of the blue light above the doorway of police stations and a long history of open access.

WMP hired consultants to undertake extensive research to show there is little demand for the counters, with most people preferring to contact the police by the internet or telephone.

All West Midlands police officers were given special briefings setting out the case for the closures before Mr Jamieson’s decision was announced.

Mr Jamieson published an independent evaluation by BMG Research. The review found that some front counters have as few as one visitor per day. When asked their preferred method of contacting the police, front offices did not feature in the top three choices − the majority preferred more modern ways of contacting the police.

Mr Jamieson said: “The force’s 41 front desks reflect an era where if you wanted to contact the police you had a choice between a landline or visiting a police station in person. That world has changed, and the police must catch up too.

“Ninety five per cent of people have mobile phones now, and can contact the police from anywhere. Research shows that very few people are visiting front desks and prefer to phone the police or use the internet rather than go to a police station.

“The current service doesn’t meet people’s preferences and is becoming increasingly expensive as fewer and fewer people use it. We need to deploy staff to call centres where possible to free up resources that keep police officers where people want them: on the street, preventing crime and catching criminals.”

Neighbourhood officers and other teams will continue to provide the same level of service and the force plans to introduce a range of new ways of getting in touch − after the public told the researchers they would prefer to use more modern methods to communicate with the police.

The closures will take place in a phased approach over the next 12 months.

Assistant Chief Constable Carl Foulkes said: “The decision to close front offices has not been taken lightly and followed a year-long review speaking to our communities to gain a detailed understanding of the service we provide and thoroughly analysing footfall.

“The simple fact is front offices are hugely underused and cost the taxpayer millions each year to keep open. Nothing will change to the local delivery of policing – local neighbourhood teams will continue to patrol and be very much a part of their local community.

“Like all other forces, we have to continue to reduce spending and ensure taxpayers’ money is spent on the services which matter to them most. We need to ensure we offer a service that is relevant to people in their daily lives.”

He said every effort would be made to redeploy staff who may be affected by the closures.

A range of methods for contacting the police exist such as calling 101, dedicated email addresses and Twitter/Facebook accounts for neighbourhood teams, community meetings and drop in surgeries.

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