The thin blue line in Leighton Buzzard has received a welcome boost with the news that the number of PCs in its community policing hub will be doubled.
Leighton Buzzard will see an extra four PCs based at the shared premises with the fire station in Lake Street as part of a promise by Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Hollway to boost the strength of PCs in Community Policing Hubs countywide from 35 to 76 this financial year.
Despite acceptance that the force is under funded, there has been strong criticism from local residents, councillors and MP Andrew Selous on how those available resources have been used to police Leighton Buzzard.
And recently, the town council rejected Mrs Holloway’s request to use £31,200 from its reserves for a parish PCSO, branding it “a cheek”. But the PCC hit back for dismissing the idea without public consultation and discussing the matter in the media, threatening to keep the town council out of the loop of future policing developments.
As well as Leighton Buzzard’s additions, four PCs specialising in Community Policing will join each of the Hub teams based in Luton North, Luton South, Dunstable (covering Houghton Regis), North Urban (covering Bedford), and North Rural (covering Ampthill and Biggleswade).
Bedfordshire Police will also to create a Neighbourhood Intervention Team of a Sergeant and nine new PCs who will be a permanent trouble shooting unit to move around the county to deal with issues as they arise in communities, at neighbourhood level, anywhere in Bedfordshire.
The team was inspired by the success of Operation Hilton in Dunstable, which followed a public meeting held by the PCC and attended by Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher in late August 2018. Op Hilton successfully targeted drug dealers and resulted in multiple arrests and the seizure of Class A drugs, weapons and counterfeit money over a fortnight of focussed operational deployments.
Of the force’s £8m funding increase announced in December, just £1.4m was provided by the Government for frontline policing, with £1.2m towards the pensions deficit. The remaining £5.6m is to be raised through increasing the police precept of council tax – around £24 a year for a Band D home.
Mrs Holloway said: “Every community and those who represent it, such as MPs and councillors, have been crying out for an uplift to officers dedicated to Neighbourhood Policing.
“The Hubs are working; they are out and about in communities every day and also set three local community priorities every few months with these elected representatives and other key community groups to concentrate on at any one time, but we need to give them more help given the scale of public demand, and provide it through officers with full warranted powers.
“I had already pledged that Bedfordshire Police would recruit more officers this year than in any year for a decade - 160 - of whom 60 are brand new posts above the level the Force had planned for; 100 will replace those leaving through retirement or other issues this year (with 80 replacements needed on average annually).
“Where the extra officers are concerned, I have worked with the Force to ensure that those spending an extra £2 a month on council tax this year can see a change which they would welcome. These will be genuine extra officers in communities, recruited for the purpose of neighbourhood policing.”
The PCC has also approved a longer term plan to recruit a further 120 PCs next year and between 110 and 120 in 2021-22.
She said: “It’s been hugely important to me to put Bedfordshire Policing recruitment on a firm footing over a longer term than my own in this office; which comes to an end in May 2020. It’s the right thing to do as the Force needs some certainty around this in order to plan and so do our communities, whatever happens at the ballot box.”
When pressed on exactly how many officers, of all ranks, would now operate as part of each hub (and whether some posts were shared across hubs), a spokesman for the PCC simply said: “There are varying numbers of officers across the community hubs - however we currently have 35 PCs across all of our community hubs. This investment will see that number rise to a total of 76 - which is 67 PCs in the hubs and the additional nine officers in the Neighbourhood Enforcement Team.”
The news has been greeted positively by MP Andrew Selous, who has spoken in Parliament many times on police funding, and town and Central Beds councillor Amanda Dodwell, a fierce critic of the PCC in recent times.
Cllr Dodwell said: “I am delighted that the PCC has at long last listened to residents and local councillors, and is investing in local policing.
“Crime is the number one concern for residents in the town. For too long the town has faced increasing crime and anti-social behaviour, and I hope that an increase in visible policing in the town will deter criminals and give confidence to local residents.
“I would however add the taxpayers of Leighton Linslade will be paying, on average, an extra £24 per household this year for policing - that is over £240,000 extra going into the policing budget from Leighton Buzzard and Linslade.
“We are paying for these extra officers, so until we see these additional officers out and about in the town I won’t be sending the PCC a ‘thank you’ card!”
South West Beds MP, Mr Selous, said: “I greatly welcome the addition of an extra four Police Constables to join the Community Policing Team in Leighton Buzzard and Linslade and the addition of an extra 4 Police Constables to join the community team in Dunstable, covering Houghton Regis.
“Every additional police officer is of course extremely welcome. It is worth remembering however that back in 1988 Leighton Buzzard Police Station for example had 12 civilian staff, 1 inspector, 6 sergeants and 27 constables which is a total of 24 warranted officers in a town that is now much larger.
“In November 2017 Leighton Buzzard Police Hub had 8 officers and 3 PCSOs so while an extra 4 Police Constables are very welcome this is still a much lower policing presence than the town had in the past.
In addition, as I stated in my open letter to the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner in June 2018 there are 5 Police forces with lower per capita funding than Bedfordshire, namely Sussex, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, West Mersea and Avon and Somerset who manage to provide 24/7 first responder police stations in towns smaller than Leighton Buzzard, namely Chichester, Bedworth, Grantham, Malvern and Bridgewater.
“Whilst the £8m increase in Bedfordshire Police’s budget for 2019/2020 is very welcome it still does not fully address the unfair comparative funding of Bedfordshire Police which is caused by the effect of “damping” which was introduced by a previous government in 2004.
“Damping means that Bedfordshire has around 90 less Police Officers less than it should have if it was fairly funded according to the Police National Funding Formula.
“I have spoken out very regularly on the issue of police funding in Parliament, both publicly and in private with the Home Secretary and I will continue to campaign on this issue whilst at the same time encouraging parents, especially fathers, to shoulder their responsibility to teach their children to obey the law and to know right from wrong. It was encouraging to see an extra £100m of Government, not council tax payer funding, be granted to the police last week.”