Frontline policing 'not meeting public demand'

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Just one in every 10 police officers is visibly available to the public despite year-on-year budget increases over the past four decades, a police watchdog warns today. Sir Denis O'Connor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said an average of only 11 per cent of officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) are able to meet frontline demands.

He highlighted how, in some forces, only six in every 100 officers are on a duty visible to the public during peak Friday night hours while larger numbers work quiet Monday mornings.

The former Met assistant commissioner blamed the low availability of visible officers on the reliance on PCSOs, who do not work after 8pm, as well as shift patterns, risk management, bureaucracy and increased niche posts. Sir Denis said the findings were further evidence of how the thin blue line must be radically redrawn if forces stand any chance of meeting huge cuts without damage to policing.

His comments came as a series of reports found police in England and Wales could save £1bn without cutting services, but a massive potential funding gap remains that many forces are not prepared for. "Can we reduce the cost of policing without reducing public confidence?" he said. "If we change the system and priorities, then possibly we can."

Reports by the Audit Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Wales Audit Office found police could shave £1bn from central government funding of around £13.7bn. Officials said money could be saved by more collaboration between forces, better shift patterns to match demand, cutting back office costs and more efficient procurement of national contracts.

But they warned further cuts will inevitably reduce the number of officers on the beat and responding to emergencies unless there is a "total redesign" of how the police is run and overseen.

Sir Denis said the Government must shake up procedures, slash Whitehall diktats, slim down accountability and be more realistic about how police manage the threats they face. He warned that one in three forces was not adequately prepared for cuts and that those who spend more money are not necessarily the most effective at tackling crime and reassuring the public.