North Essex suspension to ‘neighbourhood policing’ last year was not known to police and crime commissioner

Nick Alston

Nick Alston - Credit: Archant

Police and crime commissioner for Essex Nick Alston has admitted he did not know that neighbourhood policing in the north of the county was suspended for a six-week period last summer.

During the suspension in July and August 2015, the number of criminal and anti-social behaviour offences reported in the north policing area, which includes Uttlesford, Colchester, Maldon, Tendring, Chelmsford and Braintree, rose to 7,830 compared with 6,995 for the summer of 2014.

Essex Police say the decision was taken in order to prioritise a backlog of more serious crimes, such as domestic abuse, missing persons cases, child sexual exploitation and violent offences.

The force was criticised over the move in a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), which was published last Thursday (February 18).

The report by HMIC stated: “The force has been working for over a year to resolve a large number of open incidents.

“Over the summer the pressure to manage these incidents led to a chief officer decision to suspend neighbourhood policing completely in the largest local policing area for six weeks.

“As a result officers and partners reported major increases in crime and anti-social behaviour in communities and an increase in public and partners’ frustration about the lack of police presence.”

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In his response to HMIC’s report Mr Alston said he was “surprised and disappointed” that he was not informed about the decision.

He said: “I have already discussed this with the deputy chief constable. I knew that many areas of policing were impacted by the concentrated efforts made across the force last summer to address what was then a growing list of outstanding requests for police service.

“Operational matters are the responsibility of the chief constable but I would have expected to know if such a major change to local policing was proposed.”

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “During last summer some officers were temporarily redeployed from their roles to help investigation and safeguarding work on high priority outstanding incidents including domestic abuse and missing children cases.

“They were taken off work such as attending local public meetings, policing summer events, and dealing with low risk anti-social behaviour incidents.

“While anecdotally there were reports of more anti-social behaviour incidents during this time, across the year there were nearly 3,000 fewer incidents than in 2014, a 6.6 per cent decrease. The HMIC report makes clear that Essex has fewer anti-social behaviour incidents per head than the England and Wales force average.”

Mr Alston acknowledged that funding issues had played their part in the report, but insisted the force need to improve in other areas.

He said: “I have been very clear that I think Essex Police is underfunded but I also assess that over a number of years Essex Police failed to invest in what should have been high priority areas.

“My view is that local policing has been the least well funded area, for reasons that the chief constable has explained to me and which I support.

“But funding is not the only issue and some aspects of internal communication, training and management have also needed to be addressed.

“The need for prioritisation will however continue and I do not agree with HMIC that a force such as Essex will be able to - or should - give the attention to some aspects of anti-social behaviour, or some aspects of routine neighbourhood policing that it could in the past. Our communities and crime are changing fast in Essex, and the police must change its focus too.”