Lancashire’s dwindling band of front-line bobbies have reached “tipping point” as savage Government cuts reduce the number of officers to a record low, police warned today.
There are now fewer than 3,000 officers in Lancashire for the first time since records began, with the numbers patrolling the Fylde coast reducing dramatically.
And union bosses warn the cuts will mean “Christmas for criminals” with frustrated officers already struggling to respond to calls.
Lancashire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, says it has already seen spikes in crime since the cuts hit.
It says sickness levels among officers has increased and many calls are simply no longer being logged as crimes as crimes because of the workload.
There are now so few officers reinforcements are being called in from areas like Lancaster to provide cover at busy times in Blackpool.
Serving sergeant Rachel Baines, chairman of Lancashire Police Federation, said: “I’ve been in the police nearly 22 years and I can’t remember a time officer numbers were so low.
“Police officers on the ground are at tipping point.
“The cuts are too deep and we have seen spikes in crime.
“We have said all along this will be Christmas for criminals.
“Officers are frustrated because they are getting to jobs much later than they would want and are getting stick from the public as a result of that.
“These cuts have an impact on those who are left – we are already seeing an increase in sickness rates.
“The work rate has not gone down and we keep pushing more and more work on the people who are left.”
She added that the federation has raised concerns around safety, particularly as officers now patrol on their own instead of in pairs.
She said they are lobbying the force on a return to ‘double crewing’ patrols and more Tasers for officers.
The cuts have also sparked fears the system of neighbourhood policing, introduced in 2005 and seen as marking the return of the ‘bobby on the beat’, could fall by the wayside.
The current number of officers, 2,946 is the first time the figure has dropped below 3,000 since records held by the Office for National Statistics began in 1976. And it is down from 3,753 in 2009.
Around 1,270 officer and staff posts have been scrapped as Lancashire Police has had to shed £60m from its budget amid cuts in its Government funding.
Further cuts of £20m are needed by 2017 and it has been predicted that the number of officers will fall to 2,400 by 2021.
In Western Division, which includes Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde, as well as Lancaster and Morecambe, the number of officers fell from 750 last April to 711 in January.
Ms Baines added: “The chief constable has been forced to make these decisions because the funding is out of his hands.
“I know he wants to protect frontline services but that just won’t be achievable because of the amount of cuts.
“We understand some cuts need to be made but the level equates to 30 per cent of the force which can’t be right.
“Something will have to give. “Our pro-active neighbourhood policing which has been a phenomenal success, will go by the wayside.”
Ms Baines said that although overall crime had fallen in Blackpool – to 15,886 offences in the year to September, down from 16,206 the year before – domestic burglary rose by 10 per cent and more than four-fifths of calls did not receive a crime number.
Crime in Fylde and Wyre was at its highest level since 2010, after increases of 12 per cent and seven per cent respectively in the year to September 2014, with increases in burglary of 40 per cent in Fylde and 45 per cent in Wyre.
“You can’t measure the service purely by crime statistics,” she said.
“When someone is missing from home, police visit a licensed premises or go out on patrol, those things are not reflected in figures.”
Meanwhile, one senior policeman also revealed today that as well as officers being sent from Lancaster, local officers must now cover the Lancaster and Morecambe area as and when they are needed.
Supt Peter Lawson, who is in charge of Western Division, which includes Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde, said: “We have to be more flexible in how we move resources around the division, so if we have a busy night in Lancaster we might have to send officers from Blackpool and vice-versa. There’s no area of policing where the cuts won’t have an effect but we are committed to providing a local police service.”
Supt Lawson added no decisions had been made about neighbourhood policing.
“We’re currently working through the options and the model but people will always know who their local officers are if they have an issue they need help with,” he said.
“The savings we need to make will have an impact on the service we can provide, there’s no hiding from that.
“Lancashire has been very successful in reducing crime in recent years but the pressures around an increase in crime are getting greater.
“We’re working hard to keep the public safe and bring offenders to justice.”
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, said: “It is no secret Lancashire Constabulary has lost more than 700 officers since austerity measures began – despite my best efforts to protect the frontline.
“I have tried to keep reductions to frontline policing to a minimum, but I have no choice but to find the £83m of savings the Government is demanding from Lancashire by 2017/18.”
The frontline will have lost 14 per cent of its service budget by 2017/18.
“As of April 1, Lancashire will have 2955 officers, and I am delighted we have been able to welcome 59 new officers into the force this year. These new recruits will be a real asset, bringing new ideas, energy and enthusiasm to their roles.
“I can assure residents I am lobbying the Government not to continue to impose cuts on Lancashire Constabulary, and along with the chief constable I am striving to ensure the county has a force which is resilient and which gives residents the service they deserve.”