There will be fewer police officers on the beat in the years ahead as a result of budget cuts.
Chief Constable Gary Roberts confirmed that the number of officers will reduce by at least six from April 1 next year – but could fall further unless ‘creative’ steps are taken to privatise some aspects of the service such as custody.
He explained that the challenge facing the Constabulary is a cut in its budget from £15.8 million five years ago to £13.3m this year – with a further £960,000 to be lost over the next two years.
Some 92 per cent of the police’s budget is spend on staffing costs.
The Force had as many as 246 officers at one time but that number is currently 236 and the figure will fall to 230 from next year – but could go down to as low as 225.
Mr Roberts said: ’Next year from April 1 there will be fewer police officers – it’s as simple as that. You can’t fit a quart into a pint pot.
‘Over the next two years we will have to lose about another million pounds. We’ve gone from about £15.8m to £13.3m and another million will be a big challenge. The difficulty we have is that I spend more than 90 per cent of my budget on people’s wages. And that means the only way to deal with the budget now is to have fewer police officers.’
He said he would do all he can to minimise the reduction but he expected half a dozen officers to be lost in the year ahead, adding: ‘But that’s with a fair wind and if I’m allowed to do some imaginative things around corporatising some aspects of the service.’
He said he hoped the public would not see a difference but added: ‘However, we’ve been very busy for several months now and people may have seen we’re not responding quite as quickly as we were and they have seen we’re not doing quite as much in schools which is really sad as those sort of things are important to me.
‘However, when you’ve been as successful as we have been against drugs trafficking and we’ve been dealing with things like the storms and we’ve had some unusual crimes as well on the island, we have to mix and match and take police officers off the streets. So I will do what I can to minimise the impact and make sure people don’t see it - but they may well see it.’
Mr Roberts admitted the cuts will have some impact on neighbourhood policing, a policy widely praised for contributing to the island’s record low crime rates.
He said: ‘I hope it will be limited, certainly in the first year it begins on April 1 2014. However, the projected cut for 2015-16 will really have an impact on neighbourhood policing.’
The Chief Constable said his counterpart in Jersey had released his crime figures this week which showed crime had been reduced by 18 per cent last year, with three years of reductions coinciding with that island introducing neighbourhood policing after following the example of the Isle of Man.
Mr Roberts said that cutting officer numbers will reduce the amount of cover that can be provided on a 24/7 basis in neighbourhood policing areas.
He said he was looking to free up money by privatising some aspects of the service. ‘We are looking at things like custody but that’s a work in progress,’ he said.
Mr Roberts said the island had the highest percentage of officers on the frontline in the British Isles. ‘More than 80 per cent of our officers are in frontline posts,’ he said.
He said as police officers are Crown servants, they cannot be made redundant so the only way of downsizing is by not recruiting. ‘A lot of experience has gone and we can’t replace it,’ he said.
He said the Force had got itself in a situation where it had seen a ‘disorderly’ reduction in staff numbers. ‘A lot of people left during 2013-14. We’ve been running a dozen officers below normal strength for the last six months. Detectives are particularly stretched. I’m in the process of recruiting some detectives, probably about three, from the UK.’
The island’s first Manx Chief Constable revealed that in a five week period in the autumn, no fewer than nine people were arrested off the ferry suspected of having heroin concealed on them.
He said each of these cases would require two officers to be with the suspects at all time - one of the hidden demands that the Force’s success in tackling drugs crime places on its officers.
Mr Roberts said latest statistics for crime in the Isle of Man show a six per cent drop up to the end of December - but for the first time there was an increase for four out of the eight months.
He said he had tried and failed to appoint a Deputy Chief Constable, insisting candidates had not met his required standards. Only two local officers were eligible for the post, one did not apply and the other was unsuccessful. ‘I will probably have another try but it does make a saving. The original plan had been to recruit a deputy who would be in a good position to take over from me when I retire but that hasn’t worked.’
He said he had chosen instead to operate with two Superintendents but one of these is due to retire in April.
Police pay, based on UK rates, had been frozen for three years but a 1 per cent increase was awarded in September. Proposals in the UK could see final salary pensions with officers retiring after 30 years’ service replaced with a pension based on a career average and retirement after 40 years’ service. ‘It’s a significant issue that could cause real problems,’ he said.