Crime will rise again over summer, warns West Midlands Police boss
Crime rates are set to get worse over the summer while police services for the vulnerable could be at risk of being 'dialled down', Chief Constable Dave Thompson has warned.
The West Midlands' top police officer said recent weeks had been some of the busiest of the year – even outstripping New Year's Eve which is traditionally when the force is most stretched.
He said summer was now treated as its own operation and said he faced 'difficult choices' as he tried to grapple with the crime wave and soaring rates of robbery, burglary, theft, violence and an enhanced terror threat.
Speaking at the West Midlands Strategic Policing and Crime Board, he said: "Since the weather came out and it decided to be hot, we have seen an increase in demand.
"Two weekends ago we saw some days that were busier than New Year's Eve. The call demand has been huge and it has created an added level of pressure.
"We always plan for an increased demand in summer but in the time I have been with the force, over the last seven years, summer used to come along and we dealt with it. It is now a pre-planned operation.
"Rightly a high proportion of our staff want to take holidays with their families but at the same time demand is going up and it is becoming more challenging. We are having to put an increase emphasis on responding to the demand."
During the meeting at force HQ in Birmingham, Mr Thompson was quizzed about the force's resources.
Since 2010 the force has had more than £140m cut from its budget and lost 2,000 officers.
The Chief Constable said the force was managing but that services were close to be 'stretched'.
He said if the heightened threat of terrorism continued it 'would not be long' before he had to consider 'dialling down' some services, most likely to affect the vulnerable.
He said: "So far what we have done is to continue to deliver a balanced police service over the priorities we have got. You would always like to do more in some areas.
"We have been able to achieve quite a rounded level of policing. That is still where I am. There is an awful lot the force can do with 10,000 people and £524 million – so my outlook is always to deliver what we have to do.
"The tasks of policing has not diminished. We have been asked, quite rightly, to improve work on vulnerability and asked to do more on missing people. As the budget is falling, the ask of policing is increasing.
"I would like to make some risk-based choices on whether the force is able to meet all the national standards being dropped on us. Many in my view were not costed on the impact on policing and I'm going to have to make some choices on whether they are cable of being implemented.
"At some stage there is a choice of whether we dial down some services. That is not my aspiration at the moment."
Asked by board member Ernie Hendricks how far he was away from 'dialling down' services, Mr Thompson replied: "We are not there at this precise moment. It depends on the revised security environment.
"If we are more frequently living with the types of operations we have seen in the last few months, it would come quite quickly and neighbourhood policing would be stretched very quickly.
"I think the one area I am wrestling with, which will be a challenge, is balancing out some of the areas around vulnerability. We have new professional practice coming in on missing people – I think to fully implement that would be a very significant increase in re-sourcing. That might be one of the areas where there is a hard choice quite soon to see what is reasonable. I will have to look at that in detail.
"This is the challenge between the balance of volume and vulnerability. A number of people in society require intensive support and protection from police but the cost of delivering that is extremely expensive while we have to deliver universal services for the population."
The force said the region's increased crime rates are lower than Great Manchester, Merseyside, and West Yorkshire which are of a similar size.
Overall police budgets stayed the same last year but currently the government requires police and crime commissioners to raise their portion of the council tax to the maximum allowed to keep funding at the same level.
The West Midlands has the second lowest council tax rate for policing.
Mr Thompson last week spoke out about levels of police funding.
Yesterday he added: "The issue I have raised nationally is about the policing system's resilience and our ability to sustain high quality policing, while dealing with a new security threat that I think poses some serious challenges with the long-term outlook on policing.
"We do have a new government – we just had a General Election which is normally when governments look at spending commitments and we want a conversation about that and for policing's voice to be heard."