Junab Ali says “I have pledged to put a hold on any further sales of police property until there has been a thorough review to ensure that all issues have been fully considered and these properties are deemed no longer suitable and in a suitable location. The buildings that the Police service use must be determined by the continuing need to make Wiltshire Police more effective not by any emotional attachments to the buildings themselves and their locations, nor to any misconceptions that the buildings give the police more visibility to the public.
The resources for policing in Wiltshire are finite and there are trade-offs between using more of the budget to pay the very substantial fixed cost of operating and manning buildings or being able to allocate that resource towards more operational officers in the field, tackling crime and criminals. It’s a bit rich that Conservative candidates and councillors are calling for the cancellation of sales of police buildings that have been directly caused by cuts to police funding implemented by Conservative and Conservative-Lib Dem governments with their full support!
The additional 49 police officers currently being recruited are sorely needed. I want to use this increased capacity to effectively reinstate neighbourhood policing, with dedicated neighbourhood teams working within the community, being visible, accessible, skilled and familiar.
The resource conflicts need to be managed and politicians need to be honest with the public – I have been approached about committing to the reopening of police stations in a number of towns and locations in Wiltshire – Calne and Salisbury being two prime examples. To do so would draw all those extra police we are gaining, and more – away from the communities they would be policing and add the significant costs of running and manning additional buildings to the police budget.
A far better operating base is definitely needed by our police team in or around Salisbury but if we add a requirement for custody suites – which require to be built and managed to very tight legal constraints when the existing facilities in the County are not stretched, this will cost around £11m with substantial annual operating costs. I have pledged to review the building needs and that I will involve existing police officers and their representatives in the review process. Our police officers have valuable insight and experience we should use.
COVID has also had a significant impact on this issue as it has led to large numbers of police officers and police staff having to work from home and this has been found to be more effective and practical than was expected.
In common with other private and public sector bodies, we may be able to work with smaller and/or fewer building spaces in future whilst ensuring that our police officers have access to appropriate, effective bases of a good standard and we must do this in a way that enhances police effectiveness not makes false promises for political expediency.”