Funds for community police set to be slashed

Officers in the beat. Picture: Jon Savage
Officers in the beat. Picture: Jon Savage
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FUNDS for community police officers are set to be slashed by almost a fifth – sparking concerns recent progress in tackling crime will be reversed.

Plans have been unveiled which would see the city council’s £2.6 million police grant cut by £500,000 in 2016-17.

If approved, the reduction could lead to funding for around ten officers being withdrawn.

The proposals have caused anger among community representatives, who voiced fears over cuts to the number of officers available.

They warned the clock was about to be “turned back” in the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour in Edinburgh’s worst-hit neighbourhoods.

Roy Douglas, chair of Muirhouse and Salvesen Community Council, said: “We’ve been hearing about how the Stronger North anti-crime initiative has worked in the past few months and seen a substantial decrease in crime across the area.

“A return to a higher crime rate will put more pressure on the community and create an extra burden on council officers.

“There will be an extra burden on public services such as hospitals, where lots of incidents will end up.

“It will be detrimental to communities, and in particular, vulnerable communities like Muirhouse, Pilton and Granton. They are the ones that will suffer.”

The move comes only weeks after the introduction of a 41-strong squad of dedicated “bobbies on the beat” – including seven for the city centre. Among their core duties are attending local community council meetings, school visits and meeting with businesses.

They are expected to walk the streets and provide “reassurance patrols” becoming well known and approachable faces, while also assisting with incidents.

The £2.6m cash for 2015-16 has also funded 14 officers for the Divisional Violence Reduction Unit, headed up by Inspector Stevie Sutherland.

Chief Superintendent Mark Williams has described the new posts, which officially started in August, as “specialist”.

Chf Supt Williams said the new set-up would help to make local policing more consistent.

City bosses stressed that the funding cut was still at the proposal stage.

Councillor Cammy Day, community safety leader, said: “I want to protect frontline policing in Edinburgh but that’s amid severe budget pressure.

“If communities are unhappy about this proposal, then they need to respond to the consultation.”

Councillor Mike Bridgman, leader of the city’s police and fire scrutiny committee, said: “This is out to consultation. I would expect that the public would actually want more police officers to be available.”

Police chiefs described the community squads as a “vital resource” in keeping residents safe. Superintendent Alan Porte said: “The funded officers have so far proven to be a real asset to their communities.

“We will continue to work with our colleagues at the City of Edinburgh Council to deliver high-quality local policing.”

The cuts to policing are just another part of a scheme to secure savings worth £141m over the next four years.

Community police officers were introduced in the city to take the strain off the force.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com