Comment: Beds Police’s funding crisis should not be ignored

Officer numbers are dwindling
Officer numbers are dwindling

Former Luton News crime reporter and now award-winning Express nature writer Stuart Winter on why Beds Police’s financial plight is such a cause for concern

Expecting an immediate response from a 999 call is an entitlement that transcends anything enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

PCC Olly Martins

PCC Olly Martins

Without the safeguard of being able to summon a police officer to save life, limb and property, the articles setting out the fundamental freedoms of a civilised society are nothing more than vacuous words on parchment.

The rule of law is dependent upon enforcement yet for the first time in many decades living in the wonderful, eclectic town of Luton, I am fearful that a cry in the night for help may one day go unheeded.

Bedfordshire Police is running on empty. Exhausted, officers’ workloads vastly outweigh their colleagues across the land, with each constable handling, on average, eight cases a day compared to four in many other forces.

With a headcount of 1,092 men and women, Bedfordshire’s ratio of 169 officers compared to 100,000 residents – compared to an average of 232 in other forces – means they are working harder, longer and, more often or not, dealing with levels of crime that would test the mettle of Scotland Yard. It is worthy of note that the Metropolitan Police has a ratio of 388 officers per similar headcount of population.

We are lucky in Bedfordshire that we have a Chief Constable with experience of London’s crime signature and its parallels with our county, particularly Luton, where gang, gun and knife offences are more in keeping with a tough borough in the capital than a bucolic constabulary as Whitehall bean counters myopically believe.

Iinterviewed Chief Constable Jon Boutcher about his concerns of not having the resources to counter a potential terrorist threat simmering in the town, one that could go on to have national security implications. Events that subsequently unfolded in Paris and Brussels highlight the paramount need for community policing to diagnose and root out extremism before it metastasises into deadly outrages on British streets.

Mr Boutcher is never-ending in his praise of what he describes as the fabulous Muslim communities of Luton as well as Bedford. He believes those communities have done more to tackle extremists than any Government or police initiatives. He explains that our communities know who these extremists are and work tirelessly behind the scenes in driving them away from mosques and community centres.

For his part, he is determined to get fairer funding for Bedfordshire Police to help the communities in this fight, pointing out that he merely wants the same money that other forces receive with similar crime challenges. His ambition is to recruit the next generation of police officers from this county, especially from those Muslim and diverse communities that need the support of the force. He goes on to explain that policing will only truly have the trust and confidence of our communities if we reflect them in our officers.

Yet what of those day-to-day crimes, the burglaries, thefts, anti-social behaviour that trouble ordinary folk?

Bedfordshire Police, I am more than reassured, is doing its utmost to prioritise resources and responses to give the best possible service. Sadly, we, as residents, are failing with our reciprocal support.

The electorate rejected Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martin’s precept referendum in May to get more officers for the county. Six months on and only 11,095 people – the county’s electorate is more than 450,000 – have signed the petition calling for the Government to provide more funding for our force. A count of 100,000 will get a parliamentary debate. More pressure may get the money Bedfordshire deserves.

Without signing the petition, we are not only letting down our hard-working, brave and overstretched police officers, we are edging towards that terrifying day when the thin blue line might just snap and the reassuring voice on the end of the 999 emergency call warns: “Sorry to keep you waiting…”

> To view the petition click here