ALTON’S mayor, 17 chairmen of parishes outside the town, six East Hampshire councillors, and neighbourhood watch representatives – between them representing more than 35,000 East Hampshire residents – have co-signed a public letter demanding police do their job.
Written by Sir Charles Cockburn, of the Beech Road Safety Group, the letter states the under-strength force is ignoring rural crime. Since the Conservative government introduced austerity in 2010, Hampshire has lost about 1,000 police officers – and government records show Mr Hinds supported the austerity drive.
The letter says rural crime has increased, adding “this situation is no longer acceptable.”
In response, East Hampshire Chief Inspector Alex Reading agreed rural crime had gone up – but said a time-limited operation against rural thieves was under way, and that a panel, the Rural Crime Tactical Board, led by an acting sergeant and made up of councillors, landowners, and farmers would “talk through the concerns” in the letter.
But no more officers, or ongoing patrols, or more attendance at crime scenes, were mentioned.
See this week’s Alton Herald for more detail and reaction.
Sir Charles' letter in full:
Dear Chief Constable,
We, the undersigned, are writing on behalf of our communities to express our serious concerns regarding the failure to provide an adequate community police force in Alton and the surrounding Parishes. The issue is not recent, but it is now quite clear that sufficient police resources have not been devoted to Alton & Rural by Hampshire Constabulary. The direct result is a rise in local crime rates generally and rural crime in particular. Our concerns are heightened as we see increased numbers of break-ins and a really worrying development in that recently people have been threatened in their own homes. This situation is no longer acceptable. If “policing is at the heart of a healthy society”, what sort of society will develop when its police have gone missing?
We realise that the resources are limited but it is impossible to escape the fact that the largest town in East Hampshire and its surrounding villages have been all but deserted by Hampshire Constabulary. Understandably its citizens feel abandoned. With more housing being both built in and planned for the area, the decision to close Alton Police Station was self-evidently a bad one. At this point, there are two full-time community police officers providing a service, once covered by 20 or more, to some 35,000 people. Acting Sergeant Dan Ross and his tiny team do a fantastic job, which is much appreciated by the community, but they cannot possibly provide the level of service which those living in the town and local villages need and require to feel safe in their own homes. Yet, now we understand we are going to lose our part-time community police officers, down from 7 to 1.5 officers.
This cannot go on any longer. Our towns and villages deserve and demand delivery of the service for which they have paid. Our personal safety and properties are at risk because criminals are well aware that they are unlikely to be caught and, even if evidence is provided, often their crimes will not be investigated for lack of resources. The failure to follow up reported crime is an increasing scandal and demoralises both police officers themselves and those in the Neighbourhood Watches and Speed Watches, who wish to support the police in keeping our society safe. Similarly, the loss of PCSOs locally means supportive citizens struggle to communicate effectively with their local police service, which further undermines their morale.
While we understand the social pressures with respect to victim support, we would point out that a focus on prevention and higher profile policing would result in fewer victims of crime and a consequent reduction in the need for such support.
Meanwhile, the increasingly complex process involved in prosecuting criminals, when viewed from outside, appears to take up more and more police time. Form filling is not a substitute for an actual police presence in our streets and lanes - people we can call on when confronted with crime and criminals.
Along with burglaries and damage to property, the greatest threat to security in our own homes is fraud, with the criminal conduits of choice being our phones and computers. Like other police forces across the country, Hampshire has sub-contracted its responsibility both for the reporting and investigation of fraud to Action Fraud. With no officers visible on the streets and the biggest source of crime reports sub-contracted out, it begs the question what service is being delivered in return for the significantly increased police precept to our council tax bills?
We are aware of Hampshire Constabulary’s four priorities. However, our very real fear is that when police numbers return to pre-financial crisis levels, Alton will receive no more resources than it does now. In short, it is time to review these priorities and a properly resourced police presence put in place in Alton and Rural.
Please would you respond to this letter, setting out your plans to deliver an effective Community Police service in the Alton & Rural sector, letting us know what steps you intend to take to ensure that the current policy regarding rural policing in Hampshire is reviewed and adapted to reflect and respond to the concerns set out above.
Cllr Graham Titterington, Mayor, Alton Town Council
Cllr Graham Webb, Chair, Beech Parish Council
Cllr John Goodyear, Chair, Bentley Parish Council
Cllr Jane Costigan, Chair, Bentworth Parish Council
Cllr Ron Neil, Chair, Binstead Parish Council
Cllr Jason Simper, Chair, Chawton Parish Council
Cllr Philip Cutts, Chair, East Tisted Parish Council
Cllr Tony Batley, Chair, Farringdon Parish Council
Cllr Janet Foster, Chair, Four Marks Parish Council
Cllr Julie Southern, Chair, Froyle Parish Council
Cllr Roger Fletcher, Chair, Kingsley Parish Council
Oliver Empson-Ridier, Chair, Lasham Parish Meeting
Cllr Dr Deborah Brooks Jackson, Chair, Medstead Parish Council
Cllr Gill Pendlebury, Chair, Newton Valence Parish Council
Cllr Minette Palmer, Chair, Selborne Parish Council
Cllr Andrew Shirvell, Chair, Shalden Parish Council
Cllr Alwin Hutchinson, Chair, Wield Parish Council
Cllr Will Brock, Chair, Worldham Parish Council
Cllr Steve Hunt, Alton Amery Ward, East Hampshire District Council
Cllr Suzie Burns, Alton Ashdell Ward, East Hampshire District Council
Cllr Paula Langley, Alton Eastbrooke Ward, East Hampshire District Council
Cllr Richard Platt, Alton Westbrooke Ward, East Hampshire District Council
Cllr Ginny Boxall, Alton Whitedown Ward, East Hampshire District Council
Cllr Stephen Dolan, Alton Wooteys Ward, East Hampshire District Council
Colin Britchford, Area Coordinator, Beech Neighbourhood Watch
Sir Charles Cockburn Bt., Beech Road Safety Working Group