Police station front desks face the axe

Joseph Bulmer

Nine of North Devon’s 10 station inquiry offices to go

NINE of North Devon’s ten station inquiry offices will be axed under new county-wide plans outlined by Devon and Cornwall Police earlier today (Monday).

They will be closed along with dozens of others across the two counties in a bid to save around �5million over the next four years.

Thirty-four stations will be affected, while desks at 23 police stations will remain in operation, with extended opening hours at evenings and weekends.

Of North Devon’s existing front desks, those in Bideford; Braunton; Combe Martin; Holsworthy; Ilfracombe; Lynton; South Molton; Torrington; and Woolcombe will close, with only Barnstaple retaining a walk-in facility.

While the civilian-manned desks will go by the end of March next year, police stations will remain open to members of the public, but on an appointment-only basis. People will be able to speak with officers via telephones on the outside of stations. Station inquiry officers will be offered redeployment within the organisation or voluntary redundancy.

An in-depth review, discussed behind closed doors at a full police authority meeting on Friday, found that the number of people visiting their local police station has fallen significantly, and that most people now contact the police via the telephone or internet.

Northern Devon Police Commander Supt Kevin Harris said some stations in North Devon saw as few as four people a day. He said that 90 per cent of crimes were now reported on the telephone, while the number of people visiting stations to hand in documents, such as driving licences, had fallen by 57 per cent, with most people now using the internet to submit documents. The force website, saw 60,000 hits last month alone.

“We are looking at the way we deliver services across the constabulary and this will save the equivalent of 36 police officers – it’s about getting feet on the street,” he said.

“As local area commander I know that the public like to meet with police officers in a way that suits them. In today’s society people lead very busy lives and we appreciate that many people prefer to access the services we offer via the telephone or online.

“We also understand that some people still do want to meet officers face to face, which is why we now run successful community meetings though the PACT process, operate well-received neighbourhood policing teams throughout the community and offer the public appointments to meet an officer at a time to suit them.

“I know that the changes will concern some members of the community but would like to reassure them that my priority is to offer residents and visitors a high quality and reliable service throughout North Devon, ensuring they have access to the police when and where they need it.”

Assistant chief constable Paul Netherton, said: “It is extremely rare for an emergency incident to be reported via a police station; any individual outside a station in an emergency situation will be dealt with immediately.”

On Friday, the authority announced that police officers in the two counties will be forced to retire after 30-years of service, a move which could affect about 500 personnel.

The force has said it needs to make savings of �47m over four years.