Exclusive: Police cover ‘worryingly low’ says whistleblower

Market Harborough police station
Market Harborough police station

Police cover for the district is being left worryingly low, a police whistleblower has claimed, leaving the area vulnerable to crime and officers being put in danger.

A constabulary insider with more than 10 years’ experience at Leicestershire Police has spoken out as they claim officers’ lives are now being put in peril – with one shift last week seeing only two officers covering the entire Harborough district as well as the towns of Oadby and Wigston.

They claim the officers – a sergeant and a constable – were on duty for a four-hour stretch due to one officer being ‘extracted’ to the city to cover the fire at Belgrave Road while others were off due to annual leave or sickness.

The Mail is not disclosing the specific hours.

They explained that if the two officers needed to take someone into custody – a process which can take up to four hours and must be done in one of Leicester’s three custody suites – it would leave exactly zero officers covering the district beat.

They said: “It is being managed on a wing and a prayer.

“Officers are saying this lack of cover is happening too regularly and they are scared.

“They are being spread too thin over too wide of an area.”

Ordinarily the shift would be covered by two double-crewed cars and a sergeant, but cover is not being provided if someone is away, they claim.

The problems started back in January when shift patterns changed, the whistleblower said. They also offered an example from earlier this year when an officer was on the nighttime beat alone when a 15-person fight broke out near The Shambles pub in Lutterworth.

The scale was such that they were unable to deal with it alone and were reduced to pressing their emergency button and had to sit tight until back-up could be summoned from the city – some 30 minutes drive away.

The whistleblower says they fear losing their job by speaking out but said they felt it was too important to stay silent. They also highlight the fact that proactive police patrols during these hours have now ceased almost entirely.

Police bosses have refused to say how many officers are on duty but they say they are happy with the level of cover.

Det Chief Insp Rich Ward, the Counties Basic Command Unit crime manager, said: “We are disappointed at the suggestion at the lack of officer cover at particular times in Harborough as this is certainly not the case.

“Although we are not able to confirm the actual number of officers on duty for operational reasons, I can reassure the public that during the hours mentioned there are a sufficient number of officers on duty covering the Harborough and Wigston areas.

“Cover levels are deliberately set to match our demand and our demand falls away at times where we typically see less crime being committed.

“We are committed to policing our communities 24/7 and as a unit we always work together as a team which may result in moving resources from other local policing units to Harborough and Wigston to support them when needed.”

Sir Clive Loader, the elected Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The deployment of officers and staff is an operational decision made by the chief constable as a result of a professional assessment of demand and potential risk.

“However, we both have public safety as our absolute priority and having looked into this claim I can reassure residents that there is an appropriate police resilience in the area.”

Between 2010 and 2013 the force had to cut £20m from its budget but by March 2017 it needs to slash a further £15.4m from its budget of £172.6m. The chief constable and police commissioner gave a presentation last month outlining their ‘change programme’.

Tiffany Lynch, chairman of the Leicestershire Police Federation, said: “While we understand why these concerns have been raised, we are confident the force is doing everything it can to ensure safe levels of cover in the city, town centres and rural parts of the county.

“The force is committed to providing the best possible service it can to all the communities it serves, be that fighting and preventing crime, keeping order or protecting the vulnerable.

“But the reality is there are not unlimited funds and, indeed, force budgets have been cut considerably in recent years which has led to a reduction in officer and staff numbers.

“The chief constable and the crime commissioner face tough decisions as to how to make the most effective use of funds available and have to take a number of factors into account when determining safe and appropriate levels of cover. They must balance the needs of the communities and operational demands with the availability of resources while ensuring police officers and staff are working safely. We are working closely with the force on its restructuring programme. As the representative body for the force’s constables, sergeants and inspecting ranks, we will ensure our members’ concerns about the service they provide to the public and their own safety are taken into account.”