Ten questions for the Chief Constable of Wiltshire.

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Gerald Isaaman quizzes Brian Moore in an exclusive interview as he grapples with Government-imposed cuts of £15 million

Q: You have said nothing is sacrosanct in the cuts you are having to make over the next four years? Have you decided yet what the initial ones will be and when they will come into effect?

A: No one in Government, local police or the public has told me what to stop doing so we must try to do everything we’ve always done. Wiltshire Police must save up to £15 million by April 2014 and as part of this process the force is likely to lose up to 150 police officer posts and up to 200 police staff over this period of time.

Nothing is sacrosanct in the sense that to achieve what are significant savings, we are scrutinising and reviewing every area of our business to find efficiencies and identify new ways of working while remaining effective as a police force. However, I am committed to ensuring that Wiltshire Police will keep officers on the streets and protect frontline policing.

This includes, for example, making sure that people in the Marlborough area have the same number of beat officers in their neighbourhood as they do now – as with any other part of the county. Public safety, dealing with crime, anti-social behaviour and issues that concern you and particularly reducing violent crime will continue to remain top priorities for us as a force.

Q: Are you confident that front-line services will not be obviously affected and that residents in Marlborough and elsewhere will hardly notice any immediate changes to the number of bobbies and community police officers on the beat plus police response to emergency calls?

A: I am committed to maintaining frontline policing and I’ll demand of the force we maintain a good service. The approach we are taking in delivering our savings plans is to work from the ‘inside out’ so that we can maximise our savings in the first instance on areas that do not impact directly on the public.

Clearly where we introduce changes in the way we provide operational policing or non-urgent support services I will make sure these are clearly articulated and understood by the public. That isn’t to say there may be some changes in the way we organise our resources to provide a more accessible and flexible police service as we move forward in the future.

An example I’ve given is that if the force decides an officer needs to attend a call that has been made then any available officer may be sent even if they’re a specialist in their own area of expertise, such as a dog handler or armed response officer. By using new technology to best effect we can also keep police out on the streets for longer and know where our nearest officers are in relation to where their assistance is needed the most.

Q: The police cutbacks came as a shock to everyone following the general election, and the Wiltshire Police Authority had some 1,300 responses to its public consultation exercise. What did that tell you about their major concerns about their own lives and the loss of loyal staff?

A:  A number of general themes emerged from the public consultation carried out by the Wiltshire Police Authority. The authority is assessing the responses given by the public, but it was clear that people value their police service highly, they certainly want frontline policing maintained and they expect Wiltshire Police to be accessible and available.

As you would expect, the public want us to tackle crime, keep them safe and answer their emergency calls. People are also very positive about their neighbourhood policing teams.

Q: Did they include any good positive ideas that you have been able to make use of in coping with the demands you face?

A: People were given the opportunity to comment on their police service. A range of suggestions were put forward by the public through both the online survey and at community area board meetings that people attended.

I was surprised about how many people wanted more website access to the police and I’m keen to take that idea forward.

Q: People generally believe that police on the street is the biggest deterrent to crime. Yet the largest number of offences – domestic violence, computer fraud, drug preparation – take place indoors. How can you put that message over more effectively?

A: Wiltshire is one of the safest areas in the country in which to live and work, or visit. The volume of crime has fallen for the last five years and even now as we go into a period of change the force is performing particularly well, which is a credit to all the officers and staff who work for Wiltshire Police.

It is often the unseen crimes that we deal with that do not attract the public’s interest until the perpetrators are dealt with by the courts. Domestic violence is of particular concern to me and we will always deal with this vigorously – Wiltshire Police does not tolerate violent crime in this county.

It is often the case that the crimes that happen in public places are those that gain the highest profile. Wiltshire Police encourages people to come forward to report crimes and incidents so that we have an accurate picture to work on.

Q: There are also hidden activities that you undertake such as counter terrorism measures, intelligence operations on major crimes such as organised child abuse. Will these be deliberately protected from cutbacks?

A: Yes, we have established strong collaborative links across a range of specialist capabilities including working with other south west forces to tackle serious and organised crime. We have a formal arrangement with Avon & Somerset Constabulary to work together on major crime and Special Branch issues and as we move forward we will explore further opportunities both with partner agencies and other police forces, particularly when there is a clear business case to do so. Wiltshire Police is keen to provide services that are as integrated as possible with local authority, health and other community agencies and some of our staff are already working alongside other public sector partners.

However, we will implement some proposals independently to find the savings we need to make in the short term.

Q: What do you see as the most serious problems for the future, the more so when the number of courts is also being reduced and it is more difficult for justice to be seen to be done?

A: All agencies are having to find savings, including those in the justice system. My concern is around maintaining public safety and I am in regular conversation with other justice agencies to talk about how we can best serve the interests of victims and witnesses of crime, while continuing to effectively deal with those responsible for committing crime.

I am worried about the collective impact of cuts on public protection and that is why I am spending a lot of my time encouraging chief executives and leaders to share their plans so that we properly understand the risks. In many ways, we now have the best opportunity in a generation to work together.

Q: Marlborough Police Station was at one time under threat. It could be sold off to raise a substantial sum? Is this being considered again?

A: Wiltshire Police will need to look at which buildings and stations are needed for policing and which will be open to the public. A review of our estate will take place, but until that is done and our plans for how we will best use our operational resources are finalised, it would be premature to reach conclusions about the future of any particular building or station.

Q: What are the current serious and violent crime figures for Wiltshire and will they – and crime figures generally -- inevitably rise given that recession almost always results in an increase in offences, increasing unemployment being one factor?

A: Wiltshire has seen a year-on-year reduction in the total volume of crime over the last five years, despite the recession and the consequent impact this has had on people’s livelihoods. Of course there has been an effect on some crimes such as shoplifting, but the number of house burglaries has gone down, so generally the effect of the downturn has not been reflected in the overall crime rate and is not as significant in the county as it may have been elsewhere.

Our latest crime figures show that Wiltshire has had the lowest volume of violent crime in England for the last three reported months, between December 2010 and February this year – making this county the safest in England for crimes of violence.

Violent crime volume was lower in the last financial year than reported in the previous two years, and serious violent crime volume was lower in the last year (2010-11) than the previous year. Crime and economic theory suggest that some acquisitive crimes like theft might rise but that is easily offset by the improving in-built crime prevention measures in, for example, cars.

There is no evidence to suggest violent crime will rise but there is some evidence that domestic violence can go up if more people lose their jobs. Public place alcohol-related crime can fall because people can’t afford to go to pubs.

Q: It will be sad for you to say farewell to long-serving officers and backroom staff as they leave. What is your message to them as to the future of the police force in Wiltshire?

A: Policing is a primarily people-driven service and around 80% of the Wiltshire Police budget is used to employ staff. There will be fewer police officer posts and police staff roles as the force finds the necessary savings – and of course this is sad for all concerned.

That said, officers and staff understand why the force has to make cuts and many have been supportive in offering suggestions and ideas on how to save money. The cost of policing in Wiltshire is already one of the lowest in the country and is below the national average for forces, but employees of Wiltshire Police are dedicated to providing a first rate service to the public.

Wiltshire Police has a proud pedigree as the oldest county force in the country and people can expect our tradition of upholding the law and maintaining public safety to continue into the future. Some forces are using regulations to enforce retirement after 30 years of service but Wiltshire is not, because we value experience.

We want the right blend of wisdom and youth and we even anticipate some limited recruitment this year as so many people are retiring in the face of a lot of uncertainty.