Police numbers could rise in South Yorkshire despite budget problems under a radical idea from the Police and Crime Commissioner which, he says, would result in “bucking the trend” of dwindling officer numbers across the country.
Dr Alan Billings has asked Chief Constable Stephen Watson to find ways of employing more officers even though there is little prospect of anything more than a ‘flat cash’ settlement next year, meaning a real world reduction after inflation.
That would provide more staff to bolster the recently re-introduced neighbourhood policing units, which have already shown promising results in tackling crime and behaviour problems before they can escalate into major issues.
Dr Billings believes more staff will needed if neighbourhood teams are to achieve their full potential and has set the chief constable the challenge of finding the funding with no new resources.
That would be “bucking the trend” of most forces, which accept staffing levels will have to decline as continued reduced budgets and new expenses continue to bite.
He accepts Mr Watson may have to find ways of raising the cash through savings elsewhere in his budget, something which is expected to happen in the months leading up to the budget being set early next year.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond offered no extra money for policing in his recent budget and PCCs will learn the full impact of the Government’s spending plans on law and order when the policing grant is announced next month.
Dr Billing’s request comes after years of cuts to police spending and reductions in the number of officers within South Yorkshire Police and forces elsewhere in the country.
He said: “If you are going to do neighbourhood policing properly, you need the right number of officers to do it.
“I think we do have to look at how many are in the neighbourhood teams.
“I cannot give him extra resources, he will have to find resources from somewhere else. It may be South Yorkshire Police make savings in other areas to pay for extra police officers.
“We are trying to buck the trend. Where everyone is looking at reducing numbers, we are looking at how we can provide extra police officer resources.
“You may have to do some changes within the workforce; I don’t think we want to go down the route of job losses but there may have to be job juggling to get it right.
“This will happen between now and the end of the financial year.
“It is easy to ask why we don’t have more police officers, I get told that everywhere I go.
“They need to remember that you also need HR, IT, finance. They are civilian jobs and costs. You cannot just employ more officers without thinking of the implications of that,” he said.
No figures have been set for the additional numbers Dr Billings would hope to see, but it is expected to be relatively modest.
However, the expectation of neighbourhood policing is that by tackling problems at source, or before they cause serious issues, neighbourhood officers can reduce demand on their colleagues in ‘response’ units, who answer 999 calls.
That in turn could allow senior officers to reduce that arm of the force and channel more officers into the preventative side of their work.
Police forces across the country have seen numbers of officers decline in the years since austerity began, in an effort to meet declining budgets.
Staffing costs make up around 80 per cent of everything police spend, so finding savings elsewhere is an extremely difficult task.
In South Yorkshire efforts to provide better value has included changes such as the introduction of civilian crime investigators, doing work which would have been previously carried out by CID officers.