NEIGHBOURHOOD police officers in Cleveland are being pulled off preventative work to respond to emergencies, due to a chronic shortage of officers, The Northern Echo has learned.

The move comes ahead of the force's annual inspection in May and after a reported 30 serious incidents were not responded to quickly enough in one weekend because of a lack of police numbers.

A source said that interim chief constable Lee Freeman had told officers that if 30 calls had not been answered or reacted to in the decreed time at his previous force Humberside over the course of a year, it would be declared a critical incident.

The Northern Echo:

Pulling police officers into response roles means that there will be more manpower for dealing with emergency calls. But police officers are concerned that drug raids, stop and searches, and intelligence gathering will not be able to take place.

The Cleveland Police Federation said it was a 'sad day' for Cleveland Police.

Police Community Support Officers will now man the neighbourhoods and speak to locals but they are unable to get drug warrants, search people, or make arrests. Fears have been raised for their safety as they only have powers of citizen's arrest, and are unable to carry out many of the functions of warranted officers.

One source said PCSOs were being asked to attend emergency calls and monitor the situation until an officer arrives. But they said: "If a crime is taking place or someone is getting hurt the PCSOs are not likely to want to stand by and wait for an officer, even if it is dangerous for them to intervene."

A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said the figures were not available for the missed targets on sending officers to top priority incidents, but she confirmed there had been a weekend when 30 '999' calls were not answered within the target of ten seconds. although she said no calls were abandoned.

Assistant Chief Constable Jason Harwin said: “Like police forces across the country we are seeing an increase in 999 calls and where there is an immediate risk to members of the public we must use the officers we have available to respond and deal with it as quickly as possible.

"I’m sure the public would understand the reasons why we deploy our police in a way that means we immediately get to the people who are most at risk from danger.

The Northern Echo:

“We’ve looked at our current demand and for a temporary period, neighbourhood officers will assist with ensuring that the most urgent calls are responded to immediately.

“Our valuable PCSOs will be in neighbourhoods supervised by a police sergeant and can still call upon their police officer colleagues if they need."

"Proactive work is not solely carried out by neighbourhood teams, but also by our operational support units, crime teams, regional support teams and other partners. Our Community Drug Enforcement Team has removed over £2million worth of drugs from the streets of Cleveland since January 2018.”

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: "It is a shame for communities that neighbourhood policing is going to be removed for the force to look good in the short-term."

The Northern Echo:

Glen Teeley, the chair of Cleveland Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: "This is a really sad day for Cleveland police and for the officers themselves.

“Our response teams can no longer cope with the demand giving the force no other choice than to move neighbourhood officers into response policing and see unwarranted PCSO’s deployed into the community.

“Officers did not join policing just to ‘cope’, officers joined to get ahead of the game and make a difference.

“We have been left in such a sorry state that we are struggling to provide the public with the most basic service during times when they need us the most.”

The move is said to be a short term solution to help cope with the ever increasing demand and all time low officer numbers.

Mr Teeley added:“The ultimate role of a police officer is to save life, and as such this area of policing quite rightly deserves every resource available to be used. We have to protect the most vulnerable people in society and provide an emergency response to those people most in need.

“We have been beaten and beaten with a giant political stick to the point where we can only just cope. We have become a purely reactive service simply mopping up the crime we can no longer prevent.

“The police cannot be blamed for failings, it is the government who are to blame. Local council tax has not changed, yet 500 officers have been cut... in 2010 that money provided the government with the ability to provide 500 extra officers for Cleveland.

“Officers are devastated to be in this position, they want to do everything they can to keep their communities safe. They rarely get meal breaks and frequently work their rest days to keep the public safe at events.

“We will continue to run towards danger, do our very best to try to make a difference, and we will continue to do so in the face of adversity, because we are police officers and that is what we do.”