Surrey Police are so short of cash they cannot invest properly in fighting terrorism, cybercrime and child exploitation and are facing having to cut 500 frontline staff.
That is the reality according to the county’s outspoken police and crime commissioner who says the position is even bleaker than that painted by the forces boss, Chief Constable Lynne Owens, in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.
Kevin Hurley told the Epsom Guardian: “We can’t afford to put staff into these areas. The police cake is only so big.
“Cuts have consequences. People need to understand they are becoming increasingly more vulnerable.”
He is seeking support for a referendum to increase the police’s share of council tax by 24 per cent. It will cost £1.2m to hold taking place on the same day as the general election on May 7.
He said that if he gets the extra £25m a year he wants he will be able to not just maintain current services but invest more in stopping paedophiles and cybercrime.
And in the wake of the deadly Paris massacres last week, Mr Hurley asked how police forces are meant to be able to afford enough counter-terrorism and armed police.
He said: “It can happen tomorrow. What are we meant to do?”
Mr Hurley said the burdens placed on stretched police resources by other organisations are much “worse” than those outlined by Chief Constable Owens.
He said: “She’s articulating one very small element of the increasing burden on police that people do not even take on.”
Chief Constable Lynne Owens
In the Mail on Sunday article, she called on hospitals, care homes and other agencies take tackle problems, such as those involving violent, drunk and missing people, themselves before calling police.
She also said police should not have to spend so much time dealing with people threatening suicide and criticised shops for not investing enough in security to ‘design out crime’.
Giving further examples, Mr Hurley said police help mentally ill people, respond to crashes on badly kept roads, pick up illegal immigrants and find missing hospital patients given inadequate care.
With the NHS, the economy and immigration expected to feature in the general election campaign, Mr Hurley said policing should be high up the political agenda.
From his experience in Iraq when he wrote the national policing plan, Mr Hurley said: “If you don’t maintain stability and order in a country nothing else works.
“Did we learn nothing from the 2011 [London] riots of what happens when you lose control of districts?”
November results from a YouGov poll, commissioned by his office, revealed only a third of respondents support putting up council tax by just under £1 a week for a Band D household. But 47 percent said they did not suport it.
A poll run by the Epsom Guardian in December, 40 per cent of people who responded said they were happy to pay 99p a week to stop police cuts – 53 percent said they were not.
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But Mr Hurley said of the YouGov poll: “People do not yet fully understand the issue and what it means for 545 people to go. I expect the numbers to change as people become aware of the threat to their families.”
He welcomed more than 70 per cent of respondents being in support of the proposed referendum on the issue on the same day as the elections in May.
Cuts to 545 staff, including 500 on the frontline, are expected over the next three to four years as the force faces multimillion pound cuts to funding as a result of Government austerity measures.
Although the poll says the extra council tax money is needed “to avoid cutting police numbers due to budget cuts and instead increase police numbers by up to 400”, Mr Hurley this week said he wasn’t interested in protecting jobs but in protecting the public.
Reaction from politicians:
Tory MP Chris Grayling said Surrey MPs share the view that “simply putting up taxes” is not the right response and police should instead collaborate across borders and create more efficient systems.
Mr Grayling said: “We think holding a referendum on putting up taxes would waste money that could otherwise be spent on policing.”
Epsom and Ewell UKIP parliamentary candidate Robert Leach believes Mr Hurley probably has a “strong case” for needing more money because Surrey has the worst deal in the country in terms of Government funding for police.
He said: “I think there is a risk if police are not properly funded somehow the low crime area which we enjoy may cease to be low crime.“
Epsom and Ewell Lib Dem candidate Stephen Gee said he did not see why police should be made a “special case” when cuts are also hitting the NHS, social care and other services.
Of the proposed costly referendum, he said: “It’s a gimmick that has no chance of any success at the end of it. Cuts are painful across all services.”
But he acknowledged: “We have to ensure policing is funded at the right levels to ensure law and order is maintained to stop attacks as happened in France last week.”
Epsom and Ewell Labour candidate Sheila Carlson said: “I could cut a very large amount of money from the police budget very easily by getting rid of Mr Hurley.
“There’s absolutely no need to have police and crime commissioners. I have not seen anything that man has done in his time being commissioner that leads me to believe he’s value for money.”
In defence of his office, Mr Hurley said: “I’m disappointed by her level of ignorance about our role.”