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Savage cuts blamed for increase in police response times
GOVERNMENT cuts have been blamed for a sharp rise in police 999 response times. Rob Merrick and Joe Willis report.
POLICE forces in the region are taking far longer to reach emergencies because of savage cuts, Labour will warn today.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, will raise the alarm over the impact on “vulnerable victims” of delays responding to high-priority calls.
In her Brighton conference speech, Ms Cooper will unveil alarming new statistics revealing that response times are rocketing in Durham and Cleveland.
And she will say: “These figures show front-line policing is being badly hit.
“Not only is neighbourhood police disappearing, vulnerable victims are waiting up to 30 per cent longer for the police to arrive.
“This is the hollowing out of the police service and victims are paying the price.”
The figures, obtained through freedom of information requests, are for “Grade 1 Incidents (Emergency) at Night” – the highest priority 999 calls, made between 11pm and 6am.
They show that the Durham force took an average of 8mins 10sec to respond to such calls in 2011, but that time leapt to 10mins 44sec in 2012.
The increase – of almost 29 per cent – was the highest of any of the 22 forces across England and Wales that responded to Labour’s investigation.
And the third highest was in Cleveland – a 20 per cent leap, from an average of five minutes, to six minutes.
Although it did not respond to the Labour request for information, North Yorkshire Police told The Northern Echo its average response times in 2011/12 were eight minutes for urban areas and 12.8 minutes for rural areas.
In 2012/13, it remained eight minutes for urban areas, while the response time for rural areas had fallen slightly to 12.7 minutes.
However, both figures had increased slightly in 2013/14 so far.
Ms Cooper said it was alarming that response times were lengthening despite “neighbourhood police officers being taken off the beat” to plug 999 units.
Durham Constabulary Chief Inspector Stu Exley said the figures related to a period when the force was restructuring.
“In 2010 we achieved a target for response times 90 per cent of the time but that fell to 88 per cent in 2012,” he added.
“In the current year to date that figure has risen to 92 per cent. The immediate response target for incidents is to attend 90 per cent within 15 minutes in urban areas and within 20 minutes in rural areas.”
Ch Insp Exley said the force was now second in the country in terms of satisfaction from users with ‘ease of contact’ and third in the country in terms of satisfaction of the ‘overall service received’ by victims of crime.
Cleveland Police Assistant Chief Constable, Sean White, said his force’s figures fall well within the required targets.
He added: “There are a number of factors which come into play when responding to incidents safely and times can be impacted by severe weather conditions or members of the public, who may be emotionally or physically affected by an emergency, providing accurate location information.”
Police and crime commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, said he was pleased the force was currently hitting targets, although he added: “I am concerned about how cuts to services across the board may affect demand on our police service in the future.”
Kevin Wilson, chairman of Durham Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said the increase was no surprise.
“My members are as frustrated as the public will be at the release of these figures, as we strive to deliver the best possible service with the resources we have.”
A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that the region's four forces would end up with 1,290 fewer police officers in 2015 than they had in 2011.
The Labour figures were ridiculed by the Government.
A Home Office spokesman said: "Labour just can't admit that crime is down and police are able to do more for less. Our reforms are working and the policing needs of communities are more directly addressed under this Government than under Labour.
"Labour have no policies to cut crime or immigration or indeed any other bright ideas to help local neighbourhoods. It's time they told us what they would actually do to protect the public."
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