Leading Leighton councillors have reacted with dismay to the announcement that the town’s police station could be closed to the public under money saving measures.
If given the go ahead following consultation with staff, the enquiry office in Hockliffe Road – along with those at Flitwick, Biggleswade, Dunstable and Houghton Regis – will shut permanently.
Community police teams will still be based at the stations but people will only be able to see an officer by booking an appointment first.
At Biggleswade and Dunstable, officers that respond to 999 calls will still work out of the stations. Reception desks at Luton and Bedford’s Greyfrairs police stations will remain open and an additional enquiry desk would open next year at the Beds Police headquarters in Kempston.
The closure plans have been drawn up under a £250,000 cost cutting scheme.
But Leighton-Linslade mayor Councillor Ray Berry, who chairs the town council’s police liaison committee, and town council leader Councillor Amanda Dodwell have said they are “extremely disappointed” by the announcement.
In a statement to the LBO, they said: “We continue to see rising crime in our town, and it is hardly the time to be reducing the police presence.
“According to the police.uk website, overall figures for Leighton-Linslade show an increase from 237 crimes in August 2014 to 328 in July 2015. This represents an increase of almost 40% in just 12 months.
“Whilst this proposal will see the police station itself continue as a base for local policing teams, we fear this move may be the start of a process which could see no officers operating from our police station.
“Furthermore, the few officers we do have in Leighton-Linslade are the same officers who cover an area which extends as far as Barton-le-Clay in the east and Whipsnade in the south.
We do understand that the new Chief Constable is introducing a new model of policing with a team of dedicated ‘fast response resources’, but Leighton-Linslade is right on the peripheries of the Bedfordshire Policing area, and we are somewhat sceptical that this model of policing can provide the required response times.
“An officer based in Dunstable – which is where we understand these officers will be based – will take over 10 minutes to get to Leighton Buzzard even in the most favourable of conditions.
Leighton-Linslade is the largest town in Bedfordshire outside of Bedford and Luton, and yet we are being left with no proper police presence. We feel that even in these times of austerity this is completely unacceptable.
“Over the coming weeks we will be formulating our response to this proposal, but rest assured we will be doing everything we can to ensure that the thin blue line is not stretched to breaking point.
Chief Constable Jon Boutcher said of the proposals: “These decisions are never made lightly but we must continue to explore ways of delivering savings whilst improving the effectiveness of our service delivery. People contact us and engage with us in a variety of different ways including by phone and online, as well as face-to-face in their communities and homes, so the demand on enquiry offices has reduced over time. We have to adapt to those changes.
“Another factor has been the recent introduction of our new ‘Fast/Fixed’ operating model which gives victims the opportunity to have an appointment with an officer at a location to suit them. That is often their own home, but we must also continue to offer facilities on the force estate for those who prefer to come into a police station.
“The force faces tough financial challenges and we must continue to make tough decisions to realise the necessary £17.5 million savings by 2019, whilst protecting frontline policing as best we can.
“We will continue to explore new ways of working as we aim to achieve our vision of being a well-respected, high-performing, efficiently run police service working together to protect people, fight crime and keep Bedfordshire safe.”
Cash strapped Beds Police needs to make savings of £17.5 million by 2019, which includes a 6% reduction in the force’s estate.
Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins says keeping the enquiry offices open would not be “sensible”.
He said: “In June Bedfordshire Police introduced the new ‘fast/fixed’ operating model which included putting warranted police constables back into the dedicated community policing teams in each part of the county.
“This has meant a modest increase in the number of officers, but this is only possible if we cut costs elsewhere, hence this consultation with staff about these five enquiry offices.
“The public tell me very clearly that they want police officers to be more visible in their communities but to deliver this means taking some difficult decisions about how best to use our limited resources.
“In this time of austerity, keeping open enquiry offices that are only visited by two or three callers a day, often just to ask for directions, does not seem very sensible.”
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