Volunteers staff police stations

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The Independent Online

Special teams of Neighbourhood Watch volunteers are helping to run redundant or understaffed police stations affected by cutbacks.

Special teams of Neighbourhood Watch volunteers are helping to run redundant or understaffed police stations affected by cutbacks.

So desperate are anti-crime groups to keep police stations open that their members are working anti-social hours without pay to provide a service.

Last week The Independent on Sunday revealed that England and Wales had seen a net loss of 162 police stations since Labour came to power, and nearly 1,000 have closed in the past 10 years. The Government has now also admitted that more than 30 have closed in the past four years in the Metropolitan police area - at least seven in the past year.

Neighbourhood Watch help is in place in police stations across the country, including Iver in Buckinghamshire, Melbourn in Cambridgeshire and Oadby in Leicestershire.

Volunteers reopened Iver's station last year after it had been closed to the public for several years. It now opens two hours a week with the backing of Thames Valley police to offer crime-prevention advice and for people to report crimes.

The front desk at Melbourn has been run by a rota of five civilians from 10am to noon and 7pm to 9pm for more than a year. Before that the station was not always open to the public at these times.

Last night, Cambridgeshire police said the volunteers were not intended to replace officers but admitted that, without them, Melbourn would not always be open to the public.

"Our staffing resources have been tight although the situation is improving," a spokesman said.

The police station building in Oadby was purchased two-and-a-half years ago but there were not enough officers or funding to run it so the Neighbourhood Watch offered help. Volunteers deal with crime reports from the public between 6pm and 8pm on Mondays and between 10am and 2pm.

Roy Rudham, a regional director of the National Neighbourhood Watch Association involved in the scheme at Oadby, said: "In reality I don't think the police should be staffed by volunteers, but I don't think using our members undermines public confidence. What does create the wrong image is when a member of the public drives to a police station and finds it closed."

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