Police forces could save cash by shutting down old-fashioned stations and opening up modern versions of the “Tardis” police box made famous by Doctor Who, a centre-right think tank has said.
A better service could be offered to the public if the police left their out-of-date stations and moved into shopping centres and post offices, the Policy Exchange’s report added. Faced with budget cuts of 20 per cent, forces need to manage “the police estate in a smarter fashion” and become “more imaginative” with how they interact with the public, the report argued.
In London, the number of people reporting crimes at front counters has fallen by more than 100,000 – almost half – since 2006-07, the Policy Exchange said, with people switching to other forms of communication, including mobile phones and online.
Report author Prof Martin Innes said: “The truth is that most crime is reported by phone, many stations are getting old and increasingly expensive to maintain and are often located in the wrong places, away from key population centres.
“Rather than just thinking about closing police stations, it might be more productive to engage local people in conversations about replacing outdated police stations with more local police offices.”
Fewer than one in eight crimes received by the Metropolitan Police in 2011-12 were reported at front counters, the report said.
Placing officers in high street shops and offices will save the taxpayer money, the think tank argued, while making it easier for the public to report crime such as anti-social behaviour incidents, only a third of which are actually reported to the police.
Steve White, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: “We support any initiative which directs funding to operational policing. However, police stations are accessible to the public, all day and night, something which is not provided by local shops and businesses.”
As well as opening offices in shopping centres and post offices, the report recommends introducing Tardis police boxes, which would be hi-tech contact points featuring video links for the public to communicate with the police.
The boxes could be used to report crime, provide witness statements, discuss concerns and access information, the report said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We encourage forces to look at new and innovative ways of providing face to face contact with the communities they serve.”