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A police chief has admitted “we cannot keep people safe anymore”, and attacked spending cuts he claims have left him with too few officers to respond to 999 calls.
Bedfordshire chief constable John Boucher said: “We do not have the resources to keep residents safe.” “My officers cannot cope with the demand and no-one seems to be listening.”
He told a local newspaper: “The position is a scandal. At some point officials have got to sit up and take notice before something happens.”
The number of 999 calls in the county had risen 18 per cent over the last two years, while calls to the less-urgent 101 line were up 15 per cent, he said. The Bedfordshire force is one of the smallest in Britain, but covers busy Luton airport as well as the town, which has been described as a “hotbed of terrorism”.
Mr Boucher added: “Officers are now attending 500 extra urgent calls a month compared to 12 months ago – 20 of which are to trace looked-after children who are at risk of exploitation by gangs or paedophiles.
“I do not have enough offices to keep those children safe or protect vulnerable people.
“My officers cannot cope with the demand and no-one seems to be listening. Something is going to give. Things cannot go on as they are. My officers are exhausted.”
Mr Boucher, who took over as chief constable two years ago, claimed the Government was refusing to fund the police properly.
In March this year he publicly criticised a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary which rated his force as the worst in the country for keeping people safe and reducing crime.
It identified “systemic failings”, and questioned Bedfordshire Police’s ability “to protect some of the most vulnerable children and young people”.
The force’s overall level of service provision was deemed “inadequate”, a drop from the previous year’s assessment of ‘good’.
In her report, Inspector Zoe Billingham criticised what she called an “inability to maintain a preventative policing presence across Bedfordshire”, a claim Mr Boucher said at the time “made little sense”.
Ms Billingham reported that the force’s overall response to missing children and young people caused her “serious concern”, and added: “The process of assessing calls about missing children is poor, and the review of the initial risk assessment determining whether the case requires a ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ police response is inconsistent.
“In addition the force has poor intelligence on those children who repeatedly go missing from care homes, which makes the difficulties in locating them when they go missing, and the time spent doing so, even worse.
“Some of the most vulnerable children and young people are being left at risk of severe harm as a result of systemic failings in this important area of policing.”
However, speaking the weekend, Mr Boucher insisted: “Every force is struggling, but out of the 43 forces, Bedfordshire Police is getting the worst end of the stick.
“I have written to three police ministers now and evidenced the lack of funding for Bedfordshire and met with each one.
“We do not have the resources to keep out residents safe. I have the greatest concerns about the safety of Bedfordshire.”
Mr Boucher said: “Every year I write and tell them the challenges we are facing with regard to funding. Every time they simply criticise us for our lack of resources and tell us to focus our resources in the areas if high demand.
“I can’t tell you why they aren’t listening. I can only assume it is political.”