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9 May 2011, 16:09
Chief Constable Martin Richards has directed Sussex Police to: “Consider everything, take nothing for granted,” as the Force tightens its belt and moves forward in the light of spending cuts across the public sector.
"For many years - and with some practices, decades - policing has continued in a similar vein, but our current situation has provided us with a springboard to challenge how we police and to take stock of what is most important. The challenge is to think differently and to act decisively and I am open to any ideas that put serving the people of Sussex first," he said.
Speaking to journalists at a briefing at the Force headquarters in Lewes on Monday (May 9), Mr Richards said that making policing 'future fit' was an important part of the Serving Sussex 2015 project that has been put in place to address the challenges. One of the strands is to consider how to trim the red tape and bureaucracy that has become part of modern policing.
"Over the years, processes, checks and policies have been rightly brought in for particular purposes, but have often resulted in multiple layers of bureaucracy that have hidden the out-of-date or choked the useful.
"Our approach to this challenge is not to make wide-ranging 'salami slice' cuts in an attempt to provide a similar service at less cost and with fewer people, but to critically review and revolutionise the way we deliver policing. In some cases this means updating or removing archaic practices that have remained unchanged for decades, while elsewhere we recognise and respect core values rightly at the heart of policing for generations.
"We also recognise the need to empower and trust our people, challenging areas of bureaucracy that create the greatest frustrations for our staff. We are encouraging them to tell us what gets in the way of them doing their job."
He went on to explain that he was not underestimating the effect that changes might have. "Policing has real consequences, often involving some of the most vulnerable people in our society and those going through some of the toughest times of the lives.
"Local policing, whether it's the officer who turns up when you call 999, the PCSO who knows the issues on your street or the person you speak to to report a crime, is absolutely at the core of what we do. I know this really matters to people. PCSOs really work in Sussex so we committed to retain them and our neighbourhood policing model, even before the Government ring-fenced funding in these areas.
"However, there are still ways we can and will work differently in local policing, such as focusing our teams on specific tasks for greater productivity, ensuring we are making the best use of our buildings, and identifying better ways and places for people to meet and get to know their local officers and PCSOs."
Speaking about plans to close some police stations and the new opening hours that came into effect today (Monday), he said: Changes to police stations are an emotive subject, often used as shorthand to represent policing presence in a local area.
"The reality is that policing happens in our cities, towns and villages, not inside a building. Response officers don't head to emergencies from stations, but from where they are out on patrol and neighbourhood teams should be in their local communities, not expecting local people to come to us.
"Instead of large, expensive, inconveniently located police stations I want to put in place smaller, more local and cheaper alternatives that are more convenient for the public. For example, we can save money on buildings while being easier to access by sharing facilities with councils or other local partners, an idea the public would support (2,000 people - 77% agree in online survey, 66% in street survey).
"Closure of some larger, expensive police buildings in locations where they are no longer most useful is a strong possibility and something that we be discussed at the Sussex Police Authority later this month; but we will not remove a service without making sure that the local community has something else in its place that is as good or better. This is a big change, but one that we have not taken lightly or without seeking the public's views. It will make much more efficient use of staff time and a substantial £2 million contribution to the savings that we have to achieve.
"Public surveys have told us the way people want to access policing has changed.
"We have already started allowing people to book appointments with officers, at agreed times, rather than them needing to pop into a station unplanned. People have welcomed this opportunity to set appointments - the meetings can take at different locations and are not dictated by station opening times."
Sussex Police officers will be encouraged to use their discretion and trust their professionalism to decide on the best course of action, instead of blindly having to stick to rigid policies.
"Community Resolution is proving a popular way for us to deal with lower level crimes. The victim sees justice done swiftly and, in many cases, is closer to the result, police officers can use their professionalism to create solutions that are quicker and more effective and offenders have to face up to their wrongdoing and make amends," said Mr Richards.
Looking forward, he said: "It's easy to look back at a cosy image of Dixon of Dock Green, but the reality is that many police structures were created decades ago; a different time than we are used to now. Policing is often accused of being slow in catching up with the pace of technological change, in a time when people routinely contact institutions as important as their bank or insurers online and get news and share information by mobile on the go.
"We are in a dynamic, fast-moving world and it is important that we recognise that the more traditional forms of contact may no longer be the most effective way to work with significant groups of people. Sussex is one of the leading forces in adopting new technology, particularly in how we interact and communicate with the public.
"People can now view crime rates in their area, report crimes or anti-social behaviour directly on our website and use the Operation Crackdown website to report anti-social driving, including drink drivers and mobile phone users.
"Communications sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are already used extensively by local officers and staff to communicate with people interested in policing and to help distribute essential information.
"I expect to see digital services forming a core part of our policing. Not as a distinct separate function or novelty, but fully integrated into the way we police. From quick and easy online crime reporting and mobile data terminals feeding essential information to officers out on the beat, to fast-paced communication with the public in emergencies and location-aware mobile websites that can show you all the policing activity in your area."
Collaboration with other forces and organisations is also being studied where it offers enhanced interoperability, an opportunity to build resilience and also to reduce costs, although financial benefits are a by-product, not a driving motivation. Detailed business cases are being developed in Forensics and Scientific Support, Major Crime and Firearms, which will be presented to the Sussex and Surrey Police Authorities for their consideration later this month.
Mr Richards said: "Collaborative working has already led to the creation of the South East Air Support Unit covering Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. Two helicopters now cover the three force areas providing a valuable resource and at a saving of £8 million for the three authorities over the next five years. One of the helicopters is based at Shoreham in Sussex and the other at RAF Odiham in Hampshire and any point in the three counties can be reached in 25 minutes under normal flying conditions."
Speaking of the need to reduce staff numbers by 550 and police officers by 500 by 2015, he said: "Doing the right thing for the people of Sussex isn't necessarily easy. There have been and there will continue to be tough choices that will directly affect the thousands of people who work for the Force and the 1.5 million people we serve at the forefront of all our decisions.
"We have already seen more than 300 civilian staff members leave us under a voluntary severance scheme suggested by the staff union, Unison. I sent a personal letter to everyone who left us under the voluntary severance scheme and I was taken aback by how many of them I knew and how long many of them had been with us. These were valued employees and we were all sorry to see them go, but the decision to leave was in their hands and I'm sure that those who wish to will find that the experience they have gained working for the Force will make them very attractive to future employers.
"Now we must consider applying Regulation A19, which would enable us to require officers with more than 30 years' pensionable service to retire in the interests of efficiency. The decision to seek approval from the Sussex Police Authority has been a very difficult one and if implemented will, undoubtedly, be an unwelcome one for many of those affected. We will work with the Police Federation and the Superintendents' Association to minimise the impact on those officers. I must ensure we are able to deliver the service the public want, making these difficult decisions where they are the best, even if an unfortunate, way forward."
He concluded: "These are considerable changes that are being implemented across the Force. But throughout this period of change, we are still policing and we are still getting results the public demands.
"Despite the challenges that have become all the more apparent over the last 12 months, in the last financial year crime has dropped, public satisfaction with the action we take has further improved and we have one of the best 999 call response times in the country.
Nearly 4,000 less people in Sussex were a victim of crime last year compared to the previous year. There were 500 fewer burglaries across the Force, with Brighton and Hove having less than 1,000 burglaries in the whole year for the first time. And, thanks to preventive action, education and partnership working, there were 100 less people killed or seriously injured on our roads
"But for me, it's not about targets and figures, but the real difference made to people's lives."