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Alarm at collapse in local policing

November 30, 2017 10:00 AM

West Midlands PoliceNeighbourhood policing in Birmingham is on the brink of collapse - and both local and national authorities need to take action, Liberal Democrats have warned.

A city-wide survey has found overwhelming dissatisfaction with the level of local policing.

And it has also raised serious questions about the 101 helpline used by police forces.

Next week Birmingham's Liberal Democrat council group will be pressing for action to stop the collapse of community policing, warning that effective local policing is vital for effective crime prevention.

They will point out that community policing was pioneered in Handsworth in the 1970s and 1980s by Supt David Webb and formed the basis of the creation of neighbourhood policing units earlier this century.

The Lib Dem motion, tabled to next Tuesday's City Council meeting, recognises that local policing has been squeezed by a combination of reductions in police numbers and the serious threats posed by terrorism and gang warfare.

It calls for the government to invest more in local policing - and calls on the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson to examine the roles of police community support officers and of the 101 service. This might help relieve some of the public unhappiness with local policing.

Activists have been out during the autumn collecting survey responses, on doorsteps, on street corner stalls and on-line. Nearly 300 people have taken part from across the city.

The survey found that just 2.48% of people are "very satisfied" with police visibility in their area whilst 16.67% said they were "fairly satisfied." In contrast 35.46% - more than a third - said they were "very dissatisfied" whilst 23.76% said they were "fairly dissatisfied." (282 responses in total).

Amongst those who had used the 101 service recently (81 in total), 44% said it was "ok" or "very helpful". Complaints about the service divided fairly evenly between "unhelpful", "couldn't get an answer", "never heard back from anyone" and "took details but nothing happened."

Group leader Cllr Jon Hunt, who will be leading the debate at the City Council, said: "We embarked on a city-wide survey to see if the public shared the concerns of councillors and local activists that local policing seems close to collapse.

"The results are disturbing. Neighbourhood policing is vital to crime prevention as Supt Webb proved in Handsworth 40 years ago - especially when tensions are high.

"Now we have a situation where people cannot contact their local police. There are few police stations open and there are no local phone lines - only the 101 service where the operators have to treble up as phone receptionists, crime recorders and gatherers of intelligence. It is also an open secret that the police officers on neighbourhood police teams now spend most of their time on operational matters - rather than being out and about in their communities.

"We want all parties to join together to tell the government what is happening. We think there is more that West Midlands Police could do. Perhaps, for instance, some police community support officers could be given an enhanced role - with further training in working in communities and the independence to organise their own rotas so they can be available at the best times."

Recently retired Birmingham neighbourhood policing sergeant, Izzy Knowles, now a community activist in Moseley, added: "As a retired neighbourhood police sergeant I cannot stress enough how important local policing is in reducing crime, gathering intelligence and reassuring the community.

"There are fewer officers now than ever has been in the history of West Midlands Police and yet their workload has increased tremendously in the past decade not helped in recent years by cuts to funding of partner agencies in mental health, probation, housing etc.

"As police stations close the community has become detached from their local neighbourhood teams. On line reporting of crime is good but fails to reach a large section of the community. It should be an addition to, not a replacement for visible, local and knowledgable officers on the ground.

"We are now seeing a sharp rise in violent crime and burglary, victims are not always receiving visits or feedback they would have in the past, investigations are minimum and community concerns such as traffic management or anti social behaviour have become a low priority for action.

"A lack of visible, local policing leads to less public satisfaction and confidence in the police, that in turn empowers criminals and leads to vulnerable people being drawn into crime. At some stage a tipping point will be reached."