Norfolk's frontline policing is safe - claim

Chris HillPolice chiefs have dismissed claims that frontline services are being diluted because forces are employing a greater proportion of civilian staff compared to uniformed officers.Chris Hill

Police chiefs have dismissed claims that frontline services are being diluted because forces are employing a greater proportion of civilian staff compared to uniformed officers.

The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, released figures today which show a rising percentage of civilian staff among the 43 constabularies across England and Wales.

The number of Norfolk's police employees classed as 'staff' rather than 'officers' rose from 32pc in 2000 to 45pc last year. In Suffolk, the statistic rose from 34pc to 44pc while in Cambridgeshire it leapt from 29pc to 46pc during the same period.

Federation members warned last night that local police chiefs were putting the public in danger by allowing the recruitment of civilian staff to outstrip officers.

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But those responsible for managing the region's police service said the figures were skewed because a number of roles had been 'civilianised' as part of a successful drive to increase the uniformed presence on the streets.

Norfolk Police Authority chairman Stephen Bett said key personnel like 999 call handlers, scenes-of-crime investigators and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) were defined as staff even though they fulfil frontline roles.

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He said if the county's 280 PCSOs were classified as officers rather than staff, the percentage of uniformed officers in Norfolk would be about two-thirds - similar to the 2000 figures.

'Just because someone is not a police officer, it does not mean they are not doing frontline duties,' he said.

'The federation has not included PCSOs, but they should be added to the officer figures as they are the frontline of community policing. They are playing with the figures.

'In the last 10 years, where we have had jobs which we did not need police officers to do, they were civilianised. We need to get police officers doing what they are trained to do rather than office jobs which they are not, and we have got many more police officers out on the street today compared to 2000.'

Mr Bett pointed out that, even excluding PCSOs, the figures showed 1644 officers on the beat in Norfolk last year - 263 more than in 2000.

The national Police Federation figures showed there were already two forces, in Surrey and Northamptonshire, where staff outnumbered officers. Federation chairman Paul McKeever called on the new coalition government to order an independent review into what he saw as a 'watering down' of police services.

'I find it alarming there is no tangible evidence that even suggests, let alone proves, the value brought by civilianising increasing numbers of police posts,' he said.

'At a time of financial restraint across the public sector, a rise in police staff numbers is absolute nonsense when the public want more police officers on the beat. Instead we have increasing numbers of unaccountable, unidentifiable police staff who do not have the flexibility or resilience to give what is needed as an emergency service.'

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