One of Britain’s most senior police chiefs has questioned the future of bobbies on the beat – saying that forces can no longer afford to deploy officers in “big hats” just to reassure the public.
Merseyside Chief Constable Jon Murphy told the Superintendent’s Association conference so-called “visible policing” may not be possible given funding cuts to forces.
“I don’t see firefighters, paramedics or nurses walking the streets in case somebody becomes ill,” he was quoted as saying by the Police Oracle website. Mr Murphy reportedly said and there was a “political and public obsession” with police visibility “irrespective of actual neighbourhood demand”.
He continued: “Which is more important – deploying resources in big hats or high visibility jackets to make the public feel safe or focusing on what is less visible to the public but actually does protect them from serious harms such as child sex abuse, cyber crime or serious organised crime?”
Mr Murphy, who is also the Association of Chief Police Officers lead for crime, added: “Perhaps we should be more realistic about what we can ensure when responding to calls for help.”
Today rank and file officers in Mr Murphy’s force said the move away from street patrols could see petty crime – including vandalism and theft – increase as officers were dedicated to the city’s growing gun crime problem.
According to the Police Federation, Merseyside Police has cut 17 per cent of its staff numbers, or nearly 700 officers, in its bid to achieve savings of £45m.
In what senior officers describe as “unprecedented funding restrictions” the force needs to find further savings of £13.7m before April 2015.
“Chief Officers in Merseyside now know that if there are youths on the street playing football or causing disturbance, nobody dies,” Peter Singleton, chairman of the Merseyside Police Federation, told The Independent. “If we get the fire arms problem wrong, people will die – it’s as simple as that.”
He added: “We are now unable to undergo neighbourhood policing. The problem with that is just by talking to people on the street, the British bobby picks up intelligence. That will be lost because there just aren’t the boots on the street.
“Our chief officers have tried to preserve the front line, but they aren’t able to any more.”
Steve White, the Federation’s national vice-chair, said: “Community engagement is at the forefront of frontline line policing in this country and HMIC [Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary] has already highlighted how it is suffering as a result of cuts.”
The Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Damian Green said forces should use their “ingenuity and innovation” to change the way they work.