The closure and sale of Leighton Buzzard Police Station will have two major benefits, according to Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
The community police hub has moved closer to the town centre, Kathryn Holloway told a public meeting on Thursday.
And the old building will be used to provide a social care facility as part of the redevelopment of the town.
“I did not close your police station,” the PCC said in her opening remarks at the Mentmore Road Pavilion, which led to some heckling from residents, with one saying: “You shut the police station.”
“No, I didn’t,” she continued. “I came in on May 15, 2016 and that was already shut as an enquiries office and I would like to explain why.
“There were two individuals a day, I discovered when I came into this role, that used the enquiries office, the front office in your old police station.”
There was another interruption with a resident saying: “Rubbish. I live across the road. Rubbish.”
The PCC said: “The average was two a day. If I had continued, or reopened that station, with that level of traffic coming through, I promise you this... You would not have the sergeant to my left, you would not have the four individuals behind you, and you would not have the largest community team this town has ever had.
“There are individuals who would like to mislead you, but that is the truth.”
Bedfordshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said: “Some people think the PCC is the top cop, in charge of policing across Bedfordshire, and that actually isn’t the case.
“The commissioner has an incredibly important role to set the budget and hold the police officers accountable for their performance against the priorities she lays out in her police and crime panel.
“She can hire and fire the Chief Constable. But the PCC cannot interfere in the operational deployment of police officers.
“That is a matter which is operationally independent and solely for the Chief Constable.
“That’s exactly how it operates here and in every other police force in the country,” he added.
“For those of you directing anger at someone for police patrols being withdrawn from a certain location, please direct it at me.
“I am the person responsible for making those decisions and we do it based on methodology. I want to provide the very best policing service I can to everyone across Bedfordshire,” he told the meeting.
“What I would ask you to understand is since 2010 our budget has reduced by £37.4m. Between now and 2022, I have to find savings from our organisation of between roughly £11.5m and £12.5m.
“In terms of closing police stations, then it’s a very simple and stark choice for me.
“Do you want empty buildings with no cops in or do you want cops?” he asked.
“Now that means we have to make difficult choices about some locations.
“And that means some places are closed down, but what we will never do and have never done is retreat from a locality.
“The PCC is absolutely accurate in what she says the community policing team now is bigger than it has ever been in this locality.
“We are growing our community policing capability when a lot of other forces are getting rid of theirs,” he said.
“We want as many police officers as we can get on the front line serving the public, dealing with the things you want to tell us about.”
Local resident Jeanne Taylor said: “I understood when the police station was going, and if it’s combined with the fire service, there would be some sort of counter facility there.
“This would be where people could go in just to pass information, or ask questions, or voice concerns.
“And I wondered if volunteers from the community could go in and man the desk if it’s not possible for police officers to do it,” she added.
“I feel policing should have more information gathering facilities on the ground.”
The Deputy Chief Constable replied: “We want as much information as you can give us because you never know that what seems inconsequential now could be critical at a later date. Intelligence and information is our life blood. I would want to have a capability on a front counter in as many places as I could because I recognise not everyone has access to a mobile phone or access to social media. If there is an opportunity for us to staff a location with volunteers we would want to do that, but if it’s just open on an ad-hoc basis it’s not worth having.”
Asked about the valuation of the police station at less than £1m, the PCC said the sale of any police buildings is always subject to advice given by an expert in commercial real estate sales.
“The valuation that was placed on that building is precisely what we got for it,” she explained. “We got exactly the valuation that a specialist commercial agent who was an expert in their field placed on it.
“It’s being sold to Central Bedfordshire Council. It’s being sold to them as part of their redevelopment plan for Leighton Buzzard. You do not have adequate care provision for older people. The old building, beautiful as it was with its glorious lamp hanging outside, I am sure you will have to acknowledge, was not in the centre of town. By contrast a building you are already pay for is serving two purposes for you, and the police are there just off that (central) area.
“The fact is the officers do exist, they are based there, in a much more logical place for the demand and the way that the town has changed, and you’re going to get better social care in the other location.”
Speaking after the meeting Mrs Hollway added: “It’s incredibly important to set out what the actual facts are on crime in Leighton Buzzard and also to hear from residents themselves.
“Of those attending a packed meeting only six had experienced the crimes that dominate calls to the 999 Response officers of Bedfordshire Police - robbery, assault, theft or burglary.
“That doesn’t mean other experiences don’t count of course. We heard residents complaining of a group of youths on bicycles on the High Street and a fear factor around Anti-Social Behaviour more generally which is why we have a Community Hub Team in Leighton Buzzard who work every day to address those problems.”