Government cuts to police funding are damaging attempts to prevent terrorism attacks, the North Wales chief constable has said.
Mark Polin, who was appointed as chief constable of North Wales Police in 2009, said intelligence from communities about people supporting terrorism was being lost as neighbourhood policing numbers are cut.
Mr Polin, who is also chairman of the North Wales Criminal Justice Board and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association, said: “The real concern nationally is that austerity is set to continue and we face real term cuts. What we are proposing to say to Government is firstly you cannot afford to cut the terrorism budget anymore.
“Secondly, you’re giving us a flat cash settlement, but it’s not truly flat because inflation is at play. And thirdly you need to assist us with investment because we are creaking in some areas and one of those areas is neighbourhood policing.”
This is the fourth consecutive year of cuts being faced by North Wales Police.
Since 2010-11, North Wales has had its central government funding cut by more than £4 million or 9.73 per cent, which is equivalent to 138 full time police officers working for the force being sacked.
Recent terrorist atrocities, such as at Manchester Arena and three different incidents in London, have catapulted security and policing to the top of the agenda since the General Election. Theresa May has had to defend her six-year record as Home Secretary before she became Prime Minister.
A number of serving police chiefs have said cuts to police funding since the Tories took power in 2010 have caused damage, with cuts to neighbourhood policing leading to less interaction with communities.
“We are very concerned about community reassurance,” said Mr Polin.
“On the back of the recent attack in Finsbury Park we have engaged with our local mosque leaders and we have undertaken high visibility patrols of those communities.
“We have engaged with inter-faith groups and taken their advice on what else we should be doing.
“It’s communities which defeat terrorism and they are our eyes and ears and for them to be alert but not alarmed is really important for us.
“We want them to be confident they can report concerns to us whether it’s extremism, a terrorist threat or hate crime.
“It is our very strong commitment that we will take hate crime seriously. This year compared to last year we have seen a rise and bear in mind we don’t deal with significant numbers of hate crimes in this area - it’s currently 111 in this financial year, but it is up.”
He continued: “It went up after the Brexit vote and it went up after the recent terrorism attacks so we are closely monitoring it.
“On a positive note it shows people are feeling confident that they can report a hate crime to us.
“Neighbourhood policing teams are pretty important when it comes to fighting terrorism because they are our eyes on the ground.
“They are getting to know communities and can spot things which are out of keeping. They’re the ones visiting the mosques and securing intelligence so that’s the vicious circle we’re in: we are having to deal with new, emerging threats and having to counter terrorism while at the same time trying to save money.”
While counter-terrorism budgets have been protected, it is these new threats that Mr Polin admits present a challenge to a policing model having to change with the times we live in.
“The terrorism threat is presenting challenges and that’s going to continue for some time but it’s what else is in the mix that also presents challenges,” he said.
“We have counter-terrorism, but we also have to respond to child sex exploitation, the growth in the use of the internet to carry out cybercrime and we are always looking to support victims of rape and serious sexual offences.
“Some of those units need resources so we have put money into them. At the same time we are trying to contend with budget cuts. We have taken £29m out since 2010 and in effect we have lost about 80 officer posts – you have already lost capacity at the point you are trying to build capacity in other areas.
“The question becomes ‘where are you going to take officers from?’
“I think there are early signs the Government is listening. We realise we can deliver more efficiencies so this is not just about us asking the Government to write a blank cheque in a difficult financial climate.
“What we are saying is we are not content we are able to respond to the emerging threats adequately and in the way you might envisage.”
Following the recent terrorist incidents, especially the attack in Manchester, Mr Polin said his first thoughts were with his colleagues on the ground.
“It was close to home in more ways than one,” he said. “It caused us to think because who’s to say it couldn’t happen here?
“It made me think about what would our preparedness be like.
“What would be the equivalent scenario here?
“From my own point of view I wanted to know my colleagues were okay. I swapped text messages with Ian Hopkins, the chief constable in Manchester, just to make sure he was all right and to tell him he came across in the media very well.”
Mr Polin added recent large-scale events such as the UB40 and Olly Murs concerts at Wrexham AFC’s The Racecourse gave the force the chance to test their policing methods in real-life scenarios.
“The first thing to say is the UK threat remains at ‘severe’ which means a terrorist attack is highly likely,” he added.
“There isn’t any direct threat to anywhere in North Wales, but we have to face the fact that this could happen anywhere so we have enhanced our policing of certain events such as UB40 and Olly Murs.
“I was at a military event in Caernarfon recently and we had eight firearms officers on duty.
“It is about deterrent but also about assurance and it seems to be being well received.
“Are we now in a different environment permanently? It is too early to say but we are increasing our cover of public places and crowded places as a consequence of what we’ve seen in Manchester and London and many other forces are doing the same.
“Do we sustain that? At this point it is too early to say.
“The Olly Murs show provided us with an opportunity to engage with the community in a different way.
“Sometimes people are shocked to see an officer carrying a gun in front of them, but that isn’t the feedback we got - people felt reassured.”
See full story in the Free Press