Domestic violence, house break-ins, road safety and child protection will be the main priorities for police in Wyre Forest over the next five years.
Chief Supt Mark Travis (pictured above), who oversees policing across the county, outlined the reality of policing the district, against a challenging backdrop of rising demand, falling police numbers and significant future cost cuts.
“Every home should be a safe sanctuary for everyone, not a place of fear and violence,” he told Wyre Life.
But in order to meet those priorities, reports of low-risk, low-level crimes are now much more likely to be dealt with over the phone than by an officer in person.
Resources will also be directed into helping to identify and work with young people most at risk of heading into a life of crime, he said.
There would also be more activity to reduce road deaths and injuries by educating drivers, targeting speeding motorists and stopping drink or drug drivers.
Chief Supt Travis called on the public’s help to understand and support police priorities.
£24.3 million of cuts needed by 2021
His comments came as a new report revealed West Mercia Police will need to make further cuts of £24.3 million over the next three years to balance its budget.
These savings come on top of £67.4 million which has already been cut since 2012, said Chief Constable Anthony Bangham.
The chief constable said major savings were being sought, but that he hoped to protect frontline services.
The annual Force Management Statement also clarified the police’s aim to drastically cut back on the practice of sending officers to investigate low-level, low-harm crimes in person, instead freeing them up to attend higher category incidents and those involving vulnerable victims.
The report says: “Analysis shows that the amount of police time spent on investigating low risk enquiries and low harm allegations, is disproportionate to the number of crimes actually solved. This in turn significantly impacts on our ability to respond to more serious incidents.”
Chief Supt Travis, speaking at Kidderminster Police Station, challenged public perceptions locally about the importance of having “bobbies on the beat”, explaining that what he believes matters more is that officers are flexible and mobile.
“Visibility is a really challenging issue. The reality is that the greatest degree of vulnerability to crime is in the home and on the roads.
“We understand that people want to see the police in their community, want to see them on foot. Our PCSOs (police community support officers) are a fantastic asset and provide a very visible face of policing; they are worth their weight to our communities and are able to give people time and reassurance.
“But tailoring police work to ensure officers and PCSOs are most visible when people are more likely to see them – at driving-home time for example – rather than when they are most needed is not the right approach. They need to be visible at the time and place of the greatest risk to the most vulnerable people, and those people are not usually in plain sight.”
Pressing the issue, he added: “The public do see police officers regularly, I would dispute that they don’t. It’s part of our role to patrol and have a presence, but I’m not going to put artificial directives in place that don’t meet our key priority, which is to keep the public safe.”
He also unveiled plans to introduce crack teams of ‘problem solving’ officers who will operate across Worcestershire, swooping in when needed to join local officers to resolve a difficult issue around organised crime or if there’s a sudden spate of a particular type of crime like distraction burglaries.
They might also be used by their local inspector to raise the police’s profile in an area for a sustained period to reassure a community – for example, if there was a sudden wave of crimes in a neighbourhood. These new teams would be additional to existing local officers, he added.
In a new document, called “Serving our communities – our priorities”, West Mercia Police set out their vision for policing across Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire for five years. It forms part of the force’s response to a damning inspection report earlier this year, which criticised the force’s response to serious and organised crime and questioned the adequacy of its handling of anti social behaviour, crime prevention and protecting vulnerable people.
The new document highlights what are described as force-wide priorities, designed to help officers focus their minds and resources on particular crimes over others. These are to ensure safer children, safer homes and safer roads.
There is, however, no room for retail and business crime on the priority list, which was unveiled during our meeting at Kidderminster police station.
He also repeated requests to the public to only contact the police when necessary.
“Don’t ring us to tell us about minor disputes with a neighbour, or a falling out on Facebook, or because a fast food company has left pepperoni off your pizza.”
“Yes, we’ve had calls about all of these things,” he added.
Recorded crime rising
Recorded crime in Wyre Forest is now regularly topping 1,000 incidents a month, according to latest police statistics.
In June there were 1,027 recorded incidents across all offence categories; in May there were 1,132. The total for the year so far, up to end of June, stood at 5,905 reported crimes.
The number of violent offences is particularly worrisome – in May there were 270 recorded violent incidents, the highest monthly total in five years. These include domestic violence.
In an earlier Wyre Life report published in May, we highlighted that the number of domestic incidents reported to police had risen to more than 2,200 in 2017, a significant rise on the previous year.
We also reported that 76% of victims are female and 24% male; though it is men that are usually responsible for violence (91% of cases involve a male perpetrator).
Earlier this year the force was rated inadequate for the quality of its investigations of serious and organised crime; while it was told it required improvement in preventing crimes, tackling anti-social behaviour and protecting vulnerable people. The inspection was coordinated by HMICFRS (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services) and was based on performance through 2017.
The force must also perform its duties with a reduced number of personnel, both locally and forcewide. Across West Mercia there has been a significant fall in police numbers in recent years. In the past year alone there has been a decline in the number of officers and support staff.
Last year (June 2017) the force employed 2,071 police officers, 1,776 other police staff and 240 Community Support Officers.
By June this year those numbers were all down, with 141 fewer officers (1,930), 122 fewer support staff (1,654) and six fewer PCSOs (234).
Local activist Stephen Brown, who speaks on behalf of Wyre Forest Labour, said: “There is no doubt in my mind that the police are pushed to the limit locally and, whilst crime has not been visited on everyone, there is a big problem in Wyre Forest. That the police manage to keep a lid on this is a huge credit to them and down to the magnificent job they do at every level with ever dwindling resources.”
He added: “Our crime rate reflects some serious underlying economic and social issues that are not being adequately addressed. Parts of Wyre Forest are in the bottom 20% of UK incomes, we have some very economically deprived wards, have some preventable acute health issues, have a desperate housing shortage with unaffordable rents – and all the while the Tory government’s policy of making more cuts is making things worse as support services are lost.
He added: “It beggars belief that our MP Mark Garnier can claim frontline policing has been protected by his government, when all the evidence says otherwise.”
In his most recent statement about policing, Mr Garnier wrote: “West Mercia value the effectiveness of frontline police officers and have protected their levels of frontline staff.”