Any more cuts to the Manx police could endanger public safety says chief

Chief Constable Gary Roberts

Chief Constable Gary Roberts

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The Chief Constable says that any more cuts to the police could endanger public safety.

Gary Roberts was speaking to reporters when he announced swingeing cuts to the force, including the closure of two police stations.

He said: ‘The Isle of Man is a very safe place and the changes I have announced have been designed to ensure that the constabulary’s shrinking budget does not threaten this.

‘I would, though, sound an important word of caution - it is my professional opinion that further reductions could not be absorbed without there being a real threat to public safety.’

And in barely disguised frustration at the politicians – who in Tynwald this week approved funding of £758,800 for new dining facilities at Queen Elizabeth II High School, £3.2m for an upgrade to the Noble’s IT system and £915,000 on the final phase of the food park in Peel – he said: ‘At the moment policing is not seen as a priority.’

Lord Street and Port Erin police stations are to close as part of the shake-up unveiled this week.

Policing of the south of the island will be carried out from Castletown, with proposals to move to a new base within the town’s civic centre.

The number of police officers will reduce from 236 (having previously been as high as 248) to around 210, levels last seen in the mid-1990s. In the short term it will fall further to as low as 198.

Mr Roberts said that in a week that has seen three officers assaulted while making arrests, needing hospital treatment, his bobbies would be entitled to ask how the force could guarantee their safety if they were fewer in number.

Neighbourhood policing will be preserved, but it will be in a changed format with the three teams outside Douglas being reduced in size. These teams will be under the command of a single Inspector. Slightly more officers will be deployed in Douglas.

The cuts, which come at a time when recorded crime is starting to rise after years at being at historically low levels, will see a reduction in the number of detectives, road policing officers and senior officers.

In other moves, there will be an overhaul of the Financial Crime Unit and, with the closure of Lord Street, policing of Douglas will be moved to the constabulary’s headquarters and custody facilities will be centralised on a new site next door.

A new approach to policing the island during night-time hours will be introduced.

Most of the changes will be brought in by the end of September.

The constabulary’s budget has been cut from a high of £15.8m five years ago to £12.5m by the beginning of 2015-16.

Police officers cannot be made redundant as they are Crown officers, so the reduction in numbers is being achieved by retirements or resignations. This has already largely been achieved as no recruitment has taken place since the autumn of 2012.

As things stand, the reduction in posts will be completed by mid-summer. No support staff are being made redundant.

Mr Roberts said Port Erin police station was the most expensive of the stations to run and he was not convinced the decision to build a new one in the village in 2001 had been the right one.

He said: ‘The closure of police stations is not something I am doing lightly. However, the two that are being closed were opened in a very different financial environment.’

Mr Roberts insisted ‘most people, most of the time’ will not notice any major differences to policing and there will still be an effective, visible presence in all the main towns including central Douglas and Port Erin.

Police will still turn out to every incident.

But the Chief Constable accepted there might be a slight reduction in response times.

He insisted the plans were ‘genuinely exciting’, as they will make the police ‘even more efficient and even more effective’.

The Chief Constable said: ‘I have had extensive dialogue with politicians over the last year or so. I am now in the position where I can pointlessly try to make a case for the police being special, or I can create a modern, streamlined police service that meets the needs of the people of the Isle of Man, using the financial situation as an opportunity to drive through change.

‘I have chosen to do the latter.’

He said he was pleased to have been able to maintain some form of neighbourhood policing, initially fearing that this would have to lost as a result of the budget cuts.

There will still be neighbourhood policing teams in Ramsey, Peel and the south but the number of constable posts will be reduced from an average of 13 to eight and there will be four sergeants outside Douglas instead of the current five.

‘Neighbourhood policing is still going to be at the heart of our activities,’ he insisted.

Mr Roberts accepted that the island might have to draft in officers from the UK, at a five-figure cost a week, if there was an exceptional period of violent crime.

Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson MHK said: ‘The Department of Home Affairs has reached a critical point in balancing our competing priorities of protecting the vulnerable and balancing the budget.

‘Whilst we recognise this will mean a different level of service to the public, the Chief Constable has redesigned the constabulary into a sustainable model for the future, which will still have its roots in our communities and focus on the prevention and detection of crime, and looking after our most vulnerable.’

He added: ‘The department has been at the forefront of redesigning services and making savings, and we are now getting to the stage where that process is complete and represents an irreducible minimum number of people employed to meet our commitments to public safety.’

According to figures released by the police, the cost per head of population for the Manx force is £164.

That compares with £206 for Guernsey, £248 for Jersey, £223 for England and Wales and £181 for Scotland.

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