Sussex’s Chief Constable Martin Richards has hit out at suggestions the county’s police force has failed to protect frontline policing, by pointing out that Sussex remains one of the safest places to live in the country.
The Sussex Police chief was addresseding a report “Valuing The Police” which was published yesterday by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary where criticism of frontline policing in Sussex was levelled. In a bid to make £50 million in savings by 2015, Sussex Police has had to reduce its front line policing by 11 per cent.
Chief Constable Richards pointed out that the report’s publication coincides with the Home Office’s annual crime statistics which showed that crime generally in Sussex had fallen by more than five per cent.
He said: “We are not complacent about the issues that this report raises, but officer numbers alone are not the real issue.
“HMIC’s view of what qualifies as ‘frontline crime fighters’ is overly simplistic. They don’t take account of the role that police staff and other officers play in fighting modern day crime.
“The difference between us and other forces is small - fewer than 80 officers.
“What is important to me is what we do for the people of Sussex and how they feel about the service we provide. Judge us on service, not on numbers alone. It’s about the most effective use of officers and staff.
“Even given the HMIC definition of frontline, our reduction of 11 per cent brought about by the need to save an enormous sum of money by 2015 is in line with other forces.
“So of more concern to us is the decline in our emergency response times that the report highlights. This is an important part of the service we provide and so we are looking at this as a matter of urgency.
“In spite of the need to save money we have pledged to protect the visible neighbourhood policing presence that is valued so highly by the public. We are reducing our PCSOS by just two per cent compared with 17 per cent elsewhere - something the report does recognise.
“Confidence and satisfaction in Sussex Police remain high and more people in Sussex feel safer than they did two years ago. HMIC points out that the reduction in crime is at a slower pace than the national average, but fails to recognise that we have already made significant reductions in crime over many years.
“Others are catching us up. The chances of becoming a victim of crime in Sussex are lower that in many other areas of the country and when judged against the eight forces most like Sussex, we are now second safest.”
The latest crime figures for Sussex have seen a reduction in nearly every crime category, including overall burglary. Burglaries of people’s homes have continued to rise, reversing the trend of more than ten years.
“I do not underestimate the personal impact of a burglary,” added the Chief Constable. “It’s much more than the loss of property, even where what is taken is of enormous sentimental value. A burglary can leave victims feeling tainted, abused and in many cases genuinely frightened by their experience.
“I’m not happy about this and that is why we have recently launched Operation Magpie, which is targeting so-called ‘professional’ burglars and opportunists alike, whether they are local to Sussex or coming into the area from outside.”
The HMIC report highlighted how response times for top priority, grade one emergency calls, have declined over the last three years, set against a ten per cent increase in the number of calls needing a grade one response time.
Chief Constable Richards acknowledged this was an area where the force had to improve.
He also revealed that Sussex Police has begun recruiting again after a three year freeze. They have received hundreds of applications in recent months to support the 360 special constables in Sussex who have this year given more than 45,000 hours to the community. Sussex Police hope to increase special constable numbers as well.
The Chief Constable added: “Looking forward, I believe that even though times are tough we will emerge as a leaner, stronger and more effective organisation.
“We are not afraid to embrace new ideas, new technologies and where necessary, to make the difficult decisions to bring this about.”