The thin blue line has been stretched over the past few years.
Just how thinly has been the subject of a report, Valuing the Police, by the grandly titled official watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC).
Sussex Police is cutting £52 million from its budget over four years and shedding 350 – or more than one in ten – police officers.
The inspector, Zoë Billingham, didn’t pull her punches. She said: “The force is not managing to protect its frontline crime fighting capability as effectively as it should.
“It is one of only three forces in England and Wales that is planning to decrease the overall proportion of its workforce in frontline roles.
“It is commendable that despite all the changes it has made a high proportion of Sussex residents feel as safe or safer than they did two years ago.
“However, there are early indications that the service to the public might be starting to diminish.
“Over the last two years Sussex has reduced crime at a substantially lower rate than most other forces.
“In addition there has been a significant decline in the number of emergency and priority calls the force gets to on time.”
Sussex Police said that the inspector’s report “does not reflect the full picture”.
It said that the report “coincides with the annual crime statistics issued by the Home Office that show crime generally in Sussex has fallen by more than 5 per cent”.
And it added: “The county also remains one of the safest places to live in the country.”
Chief Constable Martin Richards said: “We are not complacent about the issues that this report raises but officer numbers alone are not the real issue.
“HMIC’s view of what qualifies as ‘frontline crime fighters’ is overly simplistic. They don’t take account of the role that police staff and other officers play in fighting modern-day crime.
“The difference between us and other forces is small – fewer than 80 officers.
“What is important to me is what we do for the people of Sussex and how they feel about the service we provide. Judge us on service, not on numbers alone.
“It’s about the most effective use of officers and staff. Even given the HMIC definition of frontline, our reduction of 11 per cent brought about by the need to save an enormous sum of money by 2015 is in line with other forces.
“Of more concern to us is the decline in our emergency response times that the report highlights.
“This is an important part of the service we provide and so we are looking at this as a matter of urgency.
“In spite of the need to save money we have pledged to protect the visible neighbourhood policing presence that is valued so highly by the public.
“We are reducing our PCSOs (police community support officers) by just 2 per cent compared with 17 per cent elsewhere – something the report does recognise.
“Confidence and satisfaction in Sussex Police remain high and more people in Sussex feel safer than they did two years ago.
“HMIC points out that the reduction in crime is at a slower pace than the national average but fails to recognise that we have already made significant reductions in crime over many years. Others are catching us up.
“The chances of becoming a victim of crime in Sussex are lower that in many other areas of the country and when judged against the eight forces most like Sussex we are now second safest.”
The Chief Constable acknowledged that there were areas where the force did need to improve.
He said: “The report confirms that we are set to exceed the £50 million savings target set by the government and the challenge for us as a force is to not let our service suffer while we make big savings.
“The only way to do this is to modernise and change the way we do things.
“The Sussex police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, has been talking to the public about what matters to her and has set a direction for us.
“While we have seen a reduction in nearly every crime category, including overall burglary, burglaries of people’s homes have continued to rise, reversing the trend of more than ten years.
“I do not underestimate the personal impact of a burglary. It’s much more than the loss of property, even where what is taken is of enormous sentimental value.
“A burglary can leave victims feeling tainted, abused and in many cases genuinely frightened by their experience.
“I’m not happy about this and that is why we have recently launched Operation Magpie, which is targeting so-called ‘professional’ burglars and opportunists alike.
“HMIC’s report has quite rightly pointed out that our response times to top priority (grade 1) emergency calls have declined over the last three years and we definitely need to improve here.
“The same period has seen a 10 per cent increase in the number of calls needing a grade 1 response at the same time as the force is delivering a challenging programme of modernisation and savings.
“But that’s a reason for more action not an excuse.
Mr Richards said that the recent end to a recruitment freeze had brought hundreds of applications to join the force.
And he paid tribute to the 360 special constables volunteering with Sussex Police.
He added: “Looking forward, I believe that even though times are tough we will emerge as a leaner, stronger and more effective organisation.
“We are not afraid to embrace new ideas, new technologies and where necessary, to make the difficult decisions to bring this about.”
The chief constable’s statement came just over a week after he presented awards to officers from Brighton and Hove for outstanding service.
Two of them went to a pair of Brighton police officers who had a great excuse for being late for the night shift one evening in April.
They stumbled across a brawl and, unarmed, braved men wielding weapons before making sure those who were fighting were arrested and charged.
PC Lynsey Burkinshaw and PC Patrick Lewsey were sharing a car to work when they spotted the men fighting on Worthing seafront.
Two men were using scaffolding poles to attack a man on the ground and another couple of men near by were punching each other.
PC Lewsey ended up covered in blood as he detained one of the men in the fist fight.
PC Burkinshaw confronted the pair who had the metal poles. They swung them at her head and threw them at her, hitting one of her shins.
She tailed the men until back up arrived and they were arrested.
Meanwhile another man brandished a chair leg at PC Lewsey. He persuaded the man to put down the weapon before enabling his arrest.
Everyone involved ended up in the magistrates’ court the next morning.
Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp, the Brighton and Hove divisional commander, said: “PCs Burkinshaw and Lewsey went above and beyond the call of duty.
“Acting initially without support from their colleagues and without any protective equipment, they acted with immense bravery, managing to stop a serious assault and ensure that the suspects were arrested and charged.”
Both officers were presented with an Outstanding Front Line Award. They were among almost 50 Brighton and Hove police officers and support staff to be recognised for going above and beyond the call of duty.
They were honoured at a Sussex Police divisional awards ceremony at the Sussex County Cricket Ground in Hove where Chief Superintendent Kemp shared their stories.
He said: “It was a privilege to be able to recognise the work of so many people who have demonstrated their passion and outstanding commitment to keeping the people of Brighton and Hove, and those who visit our wonderful city, safe.”
He praised “the high calibre and selfless commitment regularly shown by my officers and staff”.
The Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Denise Cobb, presented the awards.
She said: “The dedication and bravery shown by the officers is incredible and their awards are well deserved. The city is safer for their efforts and I am grateful to them for their work.”
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