Policing "at breaking point" in North Wales say force's top chiefs

Reporter:

David Humphreys

There is a “real risk” that policing in North Wales is “at breaking point”.

North Wales Police’s chief constable Mark Polin and Arfon Jones, police and crime commissioner have laid bare the pressures facing policing in the region in a letter to stakeholders.

The force has saved almost £30m in the last six years, representing a 20 per cent cut in resources.

This has resulted in an 18 per cent reduction in the workforce and the pair said “no budget has been unaffected.”

In the letter, the force leadership pair said: “In short something has to give, and unless we are able to ease the demands or financial constraints under which we are currently operating such difficult decisions are only a short distance ahead.”

The letter indicated that the funding pressures faced would consume “the only remaining flexibility in the budget” and it is likely the force will call on its limited reserves.

The pair wrote how the force faces the prospect of having to make “what are becoming unsustainable cuts in some service areas” while front line officers and supervisors repeatedly tell leadership they are “under significant daily stretch” and neighbourhood policing services are being examined.

If funding is unable to be found to “service the necessary demands”, the pair wrote the force “will be facing difficult decisions on what aspects of our service delivery we are able to maintain.”

Crime is now on the increase and is becoming more complex in nature – this year crime is showing a 23.3 per cent increase which is expected to continue to be between 25 and 33 per cent by the end of 2017/18.

The pair wrote: “Whilst this increase is largely attributable to new recording practices and a greater willingness on the part of victims to report, it is the case that the number of complex crimes is on the increase.”

Chief Constable Polin said: “The letter summarises the threats, risks and consequences we currently face as we work to combat increasingly complex criminality in a landscape of diminishing financial resources. We are asking partners to understand and consider the reality of the situation.

“There are choices, but they are not ones which can be made by North Wales Police alone.

“We have strived and so far succeeded in protecting front line policing. Our neighbourhood teams are the eyes and ears of our communities and their worth has never been more apparent than it is now in gathering intelligence, but we are having to review our current position. In short, if we are unable to find funding to service the necessary demands there are difficult decisions ahead in a whole host of areas.”

It was said more complex and serious crimes require more resources and different policing capabilities to investigate and safeguard victims.

This is accompanied by increased costs to the police service and the force.

An evidence-based review suggests the force needs to allocate 55 more investigators to keep pace with demand.

The complex crimes referred to include child sexual abuse and exploitation, cyber crime, human trafficking and modern day slavery, and domestic abuse.

The number of recorded sexual offences against children has increased by 34 per cent in North Wales during the period April to October 2017 while the number of children identified to be at high risk of CSE in North Wales currently stands at 84.

Record levels of 999 calls have been recorded with a “significant rise” in North Wales of eight per cent in this financial year to date.

The increased terror threat is placing “considerable strain” on the police service and given the “changing threat” from serious and organised crime accompanied by high levels of violence, the service is examining the firearms capability of the force and working to increase the number of officers routinely deployed with taser.

A “growing share” of police workload consists of non-crime demand with a study determining up to 53 per cent of work said to be of this nature.

The letter said: “The impact of austerity in other public services has caused the public to rely more than ever on the police service to provide assistance, particularly in relation to those feeling vulnerable, those who go missing and also those suffering from some form of mental illness.

“The latter is just one element of health related demand that is affecting the police service, and the Force, to a significant degree.”

The impact of “picking up the slack” from other agencies is said to be a “significant drain” on resource over which the force has “little control.”

The letter added: “Despite the funding challenges and a fall in workforce numbers, we have, hitherto, managed to cope effectively with increased demand pressure whilst achieving significant efficiency.”

Mr Polin and Mr Jones said however, “the inexorable increases in demand are now resulting in a real risk that policing is at breaking point.”

A greater focus is also being placed on seeking to resolve lower level threats and calls for service through call handling and control functions so as to avoid deployment.

This will result in the move of 26 staff members to the call-handling operations from frontline response and neighbourhood teams.

The capacity to engage with communities in the “traditional sense” has been reduced as a consequence with a greater reliance on other forms of communication such as social media.

Despite much focus on health and well being, self certificated sickness is on the rise, particularly among those aged 25-34 years.

Mr Jones said: “The risks need to be fully understood by all stakeholders and choices made.

“The impact of austerity in other public services has caused the public to rely more than ever on the police service to provide assistance, particularly in relation to those feeling vulnerable, those who go missing and also those suffering from some form of mental illness.

“The latter is just one element of health related demand that is affecting the police service and the force to a significant degree.”

Email:

david.humphreys@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Free Press

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