My vacation became something of a busmen’s holiday last week when I was pressed into action to cover the big news of the week (let’s just say I was in the area).
Norfolk Constabulary Chief Constable Simon Bailey called a press briefing for 8am on Thursday to announce his radical Norfolk 2020 strategy.
That, as you will no doubt know by now, entails sacking all 150 PCSOs in the county and closing seven public enquiry offices at police stations across the county, including Hunstanton, Downham and Fakenham.
It was fairly brutal stuff. But then it needed to be. Having cut £30 million in the past few years, another £10 million has be saved by 2019.
This little lot will only cover about £2 million, so expect more to come.
It wasn’t all bad news, of course. There are some 81 posts being created to tackle serious crime, such as cyber fraud, sex offences of various types and drugs.
And that in short was the justification for the approach.
A modern streamlined police service for today’s world.
Dixon of Dock Green is Dead. Long live CSI, or something like that.
Yes, the public finds the bobby on the beat a reassuring figure when spotted. But in truth, much of the crime committed now is virtual, or certainly not out in the streets.
And if it is, then it is increasingly violent. PCSOs were never intended to be fully-fledged coppers. They will not carry Tasers, let alone firearms. Actually, they do not have the power of arrest (other than that we all have of a citizen’s arrest).
They cannot tick the boxes needed to take on drug gangs and they are not the trained detectives that can deal with the avalanche of sex crime statistics threatening to overwhelm all police forces in the country.
One figure stood out for me. The Chief Constable said that in one month this year they had 70 reports of rapes. And as he was swift to add, these were not ‘stranger’ rapes, but assaults within the home or family grouping, many historical.
Thank goodness we live in a society where people are prepared to stand up and demand justice. But it puts an incredible strain on our policemen and women to deal with.
That is the case for the strategy. I’m sure many will say it just does not wash. Perhaps only time will tell. I certainly feel very sorry for the 150 PCSOs who through no fault of their own will be losing their jobs.
There was always an element of policing on the cheap about the whole concept, but it has worked well in places like West Norfolk.
People do need to see the law in person on the streets. Phonelines and online just does not cut it for many.
The deeper underlying problems concern the future of all public services. Austerity has cut to the bone and continues to keep cutting. One wonders if we can keep on going like this or if this is a prelude to radical privatisations of services such as the police.