Police chief constable talks about rising challenges in the face of more cuts

The chief constable of Thames Valley Police (TVP) gave a run through this week on the force’s performance over the past year. It needs to save £21m over the next three years. James Hockaday reports.

With a financial squeeze, rising demand and an increasingly complicated world of crime, Thames Valley Police’s chief constable explained this week how the force is adapting its service.

At a media conference on Wednesday at its Kidlington headquarters, Chief Constable Francis Habgood spoke about the force’s performance in the past year.

The chief constable was up front about financial pressures, saying that £87million has been chopped from TVP’s budget over the past six years with a further £21million expected savings required over the next three years.

“I think what we have seen over the summer is policing is pretty lean,” said Chief Constable Habgood.

“We have an increasing demand coming in and that can really show despite having some fantastic people.

“They can’t keep sprinting for too long.”

He said more than a thousand 999 calls were received per day during June and July across the area of 2.3m residents and that officers often were bouncing from one call-out to the next.

Investments in technology including more personal laptops for officers and training officers on specialist topics such as vulnerable people and mental health have been some of the ways TVP has tried to adapt in the face of budget cuts.

Despite the financial forecast, the chief constable was proud to announce an 83.3 per cent public confidence rating for the year’s performance.

When asked about violent late-night crime and sexual assaults, he said TVP is working with bar owners and licensees to tackle the issue.

Since September there have been two rapes reported, a murder and an assault in which part of a 20-year-old’s ear was bitten off in Windsor town centre at night.

Chief Constable Habgood says measures like a breathalysers at nightclubs and Ask for Angela, a scheme for women worried about unwanted attention, are ways Windsor’s bars and clubs work with police to tackle crime.

“Unfortunately a lot of the rapes that do happen, happen as part of the night-time economy, so there’s things that people can do to protect themselves and be more aware,” added Chief Constable Habgood, who said TVP may launch a new awareness campaign in the future.

With the national terror threat level rising from severe to critical twice in the past six months and four times since 2006, the chief constable said tackling terror continues to be a priority.

Last month Taha Hussain, 21, from Slough, was jailed for four-and-a-half years for terror offences. They included sharing a video of him driving through Windsor town centre.

TVP installed protective barriers near Windsor Castle in the wake of the Westminster attack in March and has boosted its number of armed officers.

“The response from the public was fantastic,” Chief Constable Habgood said. “People really appreciated the fact that there were officers out there protecting them.”

Over the summer months TVP carried out raids in Slough, Maidenhead and Farnham Royal as part of a crackdown on modern slavery.

The issue is one area under the spotlight as part of the force’s newly announced Hidden Harm campaign.

“It’s difficult to say whether it’s on the increase or not,” he said. “We’re getting more reports coming in but we know it’s massively under reported.”

He says this particular field of crime is complex and often involves victims with mental health issues.

He praised the police mental health triage scheme rolled out in East Berkshire in September which allows police officers to work closely with mental health professionals who can access individuals’ records.

“It’s a fantastic service because a lot of calls involve mental health in some form,” he added.

He said that mental health, ‘hidden crimes’ and cyber crime have resulted in an increasingly complicated world of crime fighting.

“I think we’re getting increasingly specialised,” said the chief constable.

“We want our frontline officers to be aware, to be professionally curious,” he said, but added front-line officers still need to work with other organisations and specialist officers.


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