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16 February 2015, 13:16 | Updated: 16 February 2015, 13:18
Dorset Police say they're going to shut eight police station front desks permanently.
The ongoing changes to the Force’s station desk enquiry offices follows a lengthy public consultation process over the past two years. In the face of ongoing cuts to the police budget, the offices were identified as an under-utilised resource and an original proposal suggested the closure of 12 out of 15 front counter offices.
However, following public feedback and intervention from the Police and Crime Commissioner this proposal was changed resulting in fewer closures and the re-allocation of staff in order to preserve some counter services, with six rather than 12 now closing.
Boscombe has been closed since 2012. Verwood and Wimborne have been temporarily closed since May and June 2014 respectively and will not re-open. Shaftesbury, Ferndown, Christchurch, Winton, Dorchester and Wareham will also close as a result of the changes.
The revised approach, originally planned for September, will now take effect before the end of this financial year in order that the Force can continue to open more counter offices than originally intended while meeting the continued reductions in central government funding.
The changes to the enquiry offices – some of which received on average less than seven visits a day from members of the public – will result in savings of approximately £300,000, the equivalent of six front line officers or 10 Police Community Support Officers. The revised arrangements, which come into effect from 1 March 2015 will be clearly displayed at all six stations, with an overview provided on the Dorset Police website.
Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said:
“Changes of this nature are understandably emotive and we continue to work with our partners to ensure that we meet our true demand within our budget constraints. Unfortunately, that simply means we can’t maintain such a costly and under-used service at the expense of other local policing.
“We have listened carefully to members of the public and retained services where they are most needed. Closing front counters does not mean that a police station is closed and officers continue to work in each area.
“The opening of community contact points later this year will be just one of the alternative ways that members of the public can get in touch with us in the future.”
Negotiations are well underway with local councils and partners in order to provide alternative contact points for the public. These contact points are planned for introduction throughout the summer in accessible community locations such as libraries, community centres and council offices. They will provide online services, 101 telephone access and crime prevention information. Full details of local contact points will be announced once final arrangements are in place.
It is also important to recognise that although some front counter services are being closed this does not mean the closure of the police stations themselves with officers continuing to patrol the area and safer neighbourhood teams remaining in operation.
Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said:
“This decision has been one of the most challenging faced by Dorset Police since I was elected as Dorset’s PCC and, needless to say, it is not one that has been taken lightly.
“I think it is really important to remember that, originally, the Force announced the proposal to close 12 out of the 15 front office counters, and as a result of my intervention and the public’s engagement throughout a yearlong consultation we are now closing six.
“I know that six front office counters are six too many, but we have to meet our cuts somewhere when we are losing 20% of our budget.”
Surveys indicate that three-quarters of the public prefer to contact Dorset Police by telephone and improvements have already been made to the 101 non-emergency service. Work is also underway to develop the Dorset Police website.
The Community Safety Survey 2012/13 found that 77% of people surveyed preferred to contact the Force by phone. Just 13% of people preferred to contact the Force at a station. 9% of people (up from 4% the year before) prefer to contact the Force via the internet.
Findings showed that from 2009-2013 some offices received on average less than 7 visits a day from members of the public.