Surrey Police “will need to decide what it will stop doing” as the force faces up to “unprecedented” budget cuts.
That was the warning from the chairman of the Surrey Police Federation as Chief Constable Lynne Owens prepares to radically overhaul how the force polices the county, in a bid to save money.
With the government currently consulting on a further reduction to the force’s budget of up to 35%, the Surrey Advertiser understands that Surrey Police will make decisions on a wholesale change programme, ‘Policing in Your Neighbourhood’, in October.
These discussions will focus on how the force delivers its services against a backdrop of extreme budget cuts, and the possibility of reducing staff numbers by 500.
A spokesman for Surrey Police said that despite a reduction in the number of officers, the force was confident in its ability to provide a high-quality service to the public.
‘This is unsustainable’
Mike Dodds, chairman of the Surrey Police Federation, said: “As the chief constable has been saying publicly, the force will need to decide what we will stop doing.
“The government is taking a massive gamble that you can take another large chunk of money out of policing and not suffer any detriment.
“I do not see how this can possibly be the case.
“I get regular feedback from officers across many departments telling me they are short of officers, that their workloads are unmanageable and that many of their colleagues are off sick with stress. This is unsustainable.
“I fear for the future of policing and I am nervous about the level of service we can provide to the people of Surrey.
“Like my colleagues, I am waiting with bated breath to see what the force has planned to address these concerns.”
In her monthly column for the Surrey Advertiser , Chief Constable Owens wrote this week: “We need to ask ourselves how we can make our processes and systems less complicated and therefore cheaper.
“We need to find tangible examples of where operational practice could change and these may not always be popular.”
However, the chief constable ruled out not sending forensic teams to attempted break-ins at odd-numbered houses and the prospect of her officers no longer attending burglaries, both of which have been trialled by other forces in England.
Despite Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley recently hitting national headlines after commenting on Twitter that dealing with cannabis possession was not a priority for the force, Chief Constable Owens said that Surrey’s policy on the drug had not changed.
“You would expect us to prioritise a known criminal caught with cannabis or an organised crime group linked to people trafficking and modern slavery, setting up large-scale factories in our communities, above a teenager caught smoking the class C drug,” she said.
‘Police cannot work miracles’
Mr Hurley, asked how the force would cope with the upcoming budget cuts, said that despite the National Audit Office saying Surrey Police was in a good financial position, the force had no option but to reduce staffing numbers by 500 people.
He said: “We therefore have to do things differently as we will no longer be able to do all the things the police once did.
“Meanwhile, we will try to do our best to minimise any risk of harm to the public. However, the police cannot work miracles and neither can I.”
A spokesman for the force said: “We are consulting widely with our officers and staff and looking in fine detail at the nature of the roughly 1,500 requests for service we receive every day.
“We will then consider how we are structured to manage risks and prevent harm to our communities, while addressing current and future funding challenges.
“The project, known to our teams as Policing in Your Neighbourhood, is in the internal planning stage.
“We intend to share our intentions publicly before the end of the year.”