Police stations ignored by public

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The Independent Online
THE DAYS of traditional police stations, with their reassuring blue lamps and 24-hour service, are numbered. A new study has found that many stations are so dilapidated and inconveniently located that they are next to useless.

Birtley police station, near Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, is, or rather was, a perfect example of the problem which has been highlighted in the Audit Commission's report. A police survey found that during one year not a single member of the public telephoned or visited the station, as PC Trevor Austen, who was stationed there, confirmed. The people of Birtley (population 15,000) did not even notice when it was closed down by the police.

Superintendent Brian Graham, who is in charge of the area surrounding Birtley in the Northumbria police region, said: "There was not a soul going to the station. It was in the Dark Ages and would have been very expensive to update. It was at the wrong end of the town and people were telephoning our central control room if they had a problem. We closed it down and didn't tell the public to see what response we would get; no one noticed."

The building is for sale and has been replaced by a mobile station in a caravan, which has resulted in a drop in crime.

The Audit Commission report, "Action Stations - Improving the Management of the Police Estate", found that policing priorities and the public's needs were rapidly changing. A survey in Northamptonshire discovered that people were more likely to go to a police station to report lost or stray dogs than to give details of a crime. The most popular reason for a visit to one of the 2,000 stations in England and Wales is to inquire about lost or found property, which accounts for one in five trips. Only three in every 100 people go to a station to report a crime.

The report claims that communities often fear that their area will be less safe without a local police station. "In fact, closing some stations or contracting opening times can release officers for more patrol," says the study by the public spending watchdog.

Only a quarter of police stations are open 24 hours a day and most public contact takes place by telephone. Some forces, such as Greater Manchester, Sussex, and Lothian and Borders, have installed interactive computers on streets which have direct video links to police control rooms.