'The final nail in the coffin': Fury over police station closures
Controversial plans to close 24 police bases across the West Midlands have been branded 'the final nail in the coffin' for law enforcement.
The region's police and crime commissioner (PCC) David Jamieson wants to close the stations to save £5 million, arguing that the move will put more officers on the streets.
But critics say it is the latest example of the police 'distancing themselves from the public' at a time when crime is on the rise.
Aldridge-Brownhills Tory MP Wendy Morton said the proposal to close Aldridge Police Station was 'outrageous' and has vowed to fight to keep it open.
Meanwhile Sedgley councillor Bill Etheridge accused Mr Jamieson of ensuring that bobbies are 'disappearing from sight'.
Over the last two years 28 police bases have already closed down in the West Midlands. The latest plans will see eight stations go in the Black Country.
None of them are open to the public, with most shutting their front desks three years ago. Crime in the West Midlands has gone up by 14 per cent over the last year.
Mrs Morton said she has written to the PCC over the closure of Aldridge Police Station on Anchor Road.
"The decision by the PCC to close Aldridge Police Station is outrageous," she said. "It is being undertaken without consultation and comes on the back of receiving increased funding from the Government in the recent funding settlement.
"I am writing to the PCC as public safety and reassurance is of paramount importance to me and to local residents, and that means retaining our police station in Aldridge."
Councillor John Murray, who represents Aldridge Central and South for the Conservatives on Walsall Council, said: "I accept that Aldridge Police Station is not open to the public anymore, and that is is used for training and an office.
"But police are going in and out of there all the time, and closing it will simply take away the police presence from Aldridge.
"We have a great neighbourhood police team and people are questioning where they will go, and will there be an impact on response times.
"The police are distancing themselves from the public. I think Mr Jamieson has got this one wrong."
Councillor Bill Etheridge said he was appalled at the proposed closure of the police base in the Sedgley ward he represents.
"David Jamieson's view of policing is increasingly taking place 'through the looking glass'," the UKIP councillor added.
"What he believes to be true is exactly the opposite of what the public wants. They want to see a police presence, instead our bobbies are disappearing from sight.
"This is the final nail in the coffin from a crime commissioner who is more interested in building an empire based on politically correct social work than enforcing the law and keeping people safe."
Wolverhampton council's Tory leader Wendy Thompson said she was sad to see the planned closures of bases in Prouds Lane, Bilston, and Alfred Squire Road, Wednesfield.
She said the public 'expected more' after the PCC revealed plans to raise the police council tax precept this April.
"I think police stations are highly valued by local communities because they give people the reassurance that officers are around to fight crime," she said.
"People are being asked to pay more council tax for the police, and they will be asking what are they getting in return?
"We are paying more to get less, which is quite frankly, unacceptable.
"The police are increasingly tied up in bureaucracy and distanced from the public. How will the community give them the information to stop crime if there are no officers around?"
Labour councillor Phil Bateman, who represents Wednesfield North, said: "Wednesfield station stopped functioning as a proper police station with a front desk in the last round of cuts.
"Does it make a difference? The community loses confidence when the police do not have a functioning station. Many people are asking how many more stations do we have to lose before we start getting police officers back onto the frontline?
"This is a major issues and I don't think losing Wednesfield station is good for the community around here.
"Every time they make decisions like this they drive themselves further away from the communities they serve. The Government should be funding the police properly from our tax pounds."
Mr Jamieson says he has been forced to make efficiencies due to WMP being hit with £145m slashed from its budget in real terms since 2010.
He said today: "I am protecting 100 police officer posts.
"I hope Bill Etheridge is thinking like local constituents and myself in wanting to see officers out on the streets and not behind desks in police buildings."
Stations in Wednesbury, Smethwick, Tipton and Oldbury will also be released from the force's estate as part of the plan.
A decision on the proposals is expected next month.