A new West Midlands Police website has gone live today inviting members of the public to give their views on proposals to change the opening hours of 12 police station front offices from January 2012.
Bloxwich is the only station in Walsall Metropolitan Borough slated for a cut in hours, from 24 hours per day to just 10am-6pm, and unhappy Bloxwich residents are already up in arms over the proposals.
There has been a police station in Bloxwich since 1861. The current Bloxwich Police Station in Elmore Green Road is the most modern in the borough, and was formally opened by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, on 26 September 2002 , replacing the previous station housed in the historic Bloxwich Public Buildings (built 1882) which were demolished to make way for the new station.
Police claim that under the new arrangements, 99% of households will never be more than four miles from a 24/7 opening police station across the region.
A detailed report is due to go to the Police Authority for their consideration and will be presented at their next meeting on Thursday 1 December. This will be available on the Police Authority website on Thursday 24 November: www.west-midlands-pa.gov.uk . Police Authority members will consider the proposal and the consultation process.
The website launched today details the analysis behind the proposed changes. The research took place in September to see how often people visited front offices. It showed that, in those stations where the changes are being proposed, on average two people visited the front offices outside of core hours. A large number of those were solicitors visiting the custody facility.
Research also shows that the main method of contact for members of the public is over the phone. On average the force handles over 5,000 phone calls each day from the public and over 2,000 emails per month are received by the force’s “Contact us” email account alone.
Consultation has already started with local councillors, MPs and members of the forces KIN (Key Individual Network) – members of the public who take an active interest in policing – on how police can better provide different services to the public in the future.
In Bloxwich, however, Labour Councillors from Bloxwich and Blakenall Heath were already busy on Saturday, in one day collecting more than 1100 signatures from unhappy residents, to a petition calling for a rethink of the proposed cuts in Bloxwich police station hours.
The alterations to opening times come when the West Midlands force is being subjected to severe Coalition government cuts, meaning it has to save £126 million over a four year period, and management feels the need to review and rationalise its services as part of a modernisation programme.
Police insist however that cuts to opening hours will not impact on the way the force works within its local communities. Officers will continue to work within communities, patrol neighbourhoods and work with local people and partners to identify and solve issues of concern.
“We know that most people contact us today to by the phone or email rather than visit a front office,” said Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe. “Therefore we propose deploying the staff who currently work in these front offices back into our contact centres to increase efficiency of our call handling and also it will release some police officers back to the front line.”
“Our demand analysis has shown that on average around two people an hour visit the front offices where the opening times are changing; which has prompted the proposal for change. Nothing is changing to where officers work from and these changes will not impact on the way we work with local communities. This is about modernising contact and responding to match the service we deliver to how people in reality choose to access it.
“We are increasingly looking at using different methods of contact in order to interact with our communities. We are making more use of use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which a growing audience use to communicate with us which allows us to talk to tens of thousands of people everyday. Our main twitter account has over 26,000 followers and our main Facebook account has over 10,000 followers with hundreds of our officers also using social media to engage with local communities.”
“We have also established a new diary appointments system, which means that in many cases our officers will come to you, rather than members of the public having to come to us and wait at front offices.
Police have however consistently been at pains to tell members of the public not to report emergencies via email or social media, and many Bloxwich people, especially the elderly, poor and vulnerable, have no home internet access, and in some cases no telephone, calling this strategy into question.
People are invited to give their views via an online questionnaire on the force’s website www.west-midlands.police.uk on how West Midlands Police will provide services in the future. People can also email their views via email@example.com, or write to West Midlands Police, Lloyd House, Colmore Circus, Queensway, B4 6NQ.