I will struggle to assure when community policing numbers are slashed in April

I have not assiduously recorded every conversation or correspondence with residents regarding police numbers, but I think I am on pretty sure ground when I say that I have yet to hear from anyone who wants fewer police. Certainly, if my memory has failed to recall such a conversation it is certain that those who desire less of a police presence are in a minority. A tiny minority.

I represent a ward that is part of a trio that has the worst crime statistics in Essex. It has been this way for some time, and the central Southend wards are not just number one for crimes in Essex, the numbers here are more than double the next most blighted community. Of course there are special circumstances that go some way to explaining this, but this is scant consolation for the 35,000 or so who reside here, as well as those who visit and work in the centre of Southend-on-Sea.

I am less certain when I say that ward councillors and residents really appreciate community policing, although I have yet to hear a word against it. Certainly I am grateful for the work that the community teams do, especially in Milton ward. To hear that they will be reduced to less than a third of their current strength come next April is appalling news.

Community policing teams are an important link in the battle to combat crime and keep our streets safe. Quite why the Government is cutting police budgets so that these sorts of decisions are being forced on those that run police forces throughout Essex is beyond me. Is Mr Cameron under the illusion that the war on crime is won already? It certainly has not been won in Milton ward.

I am not one to spread alarm, and I am sure that the police that remain after the latest round of cuts (and who knows what is in store in the years ahead) will work smarter and harder to keep our streets safe. But police presence on the ground is going to be affected, and with more police stations closing visiting your local police will be that bit harder. Many that I know want to see the reassuring presence of a bobby on the beat, and whilst I will try for a bigger share of resources I can understand the arguments that competing wards will doubtless make.

I am sure that Southend-on-Sea will remain a safe town. I am also sure that I am bound to disappoint residents who ask for more visible policing in their area. This may have the knock-on effect of keeping indoors those who will feel vulnerable when wandering out and about. Is this what those who voted for cuts want – residents made virtual prisoners in their own homes by the fear of crime?


Police front counter closures – a cut too far

One of the joys, if that is not being too ironic, of campaigning in a town centre ward is that complaints about various forms of anti-social behaviour rank not far behind parking in many residents’ minds as being the most pressing issue.

It is not just noisy neighbours that are mentioned. In fact, as neighbourhoods go the town centre is quite harmonious amongst the residents themselves. It is the visitors that cause problems: the late-night revellers, addicts looking for fixes, vandals and various ne’er-do-wells, the muggers and rapists. The list could get quite lengthy, but I think you get my drift.

No government, local or national, can make all its citizens behave. However, it can do much to ensure that those who writ runs to mischief are punished.

The current Conservative government has something in common with the previous, John Major, administration: it cut police numbers. This contrasts with the intervening Labour government who oversaw record numbers of police.

The news that Leigh, Shoebury, Rochford and South Benfleet front counter services (police stations, in other words) are closing today will do naught to engender a sense of peace and security for those once served by them. In all twenty such front counters are closing today across Essex. (See http://www.essex.police.uk/news_features/latest_news_updates/front_counter_opening_times.aspx)

This is a cut too far. I cannot recall anyone telling me that they welcomed cuts to police numbers or to front counter services.

Public services are under the threat of the axe everywhere. Today it is the police, will it be firemen or nurses or teachers next?