West Midlands Police new deputy chief constable said it was “too early” to say what the force would look like in the face of potential swingeing cuts by the Government.
But David Thompson said the force’s recent restructure, codenamed Programme Paragon, had anticipated budget cuts were on the way and moved so that it would not effect service delivery.
His comments came as Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the current level of police officers was not “sustainable” and warned it would be impossible to meet demand for more police on the streets. Home Secretary Theresa May pledged cuts in bureaucracy to help meet the savings but the new Government has refused to protect law and order as it sought to reduce the nation’s deficit.
Some experts predict the loss of up to 35,000 police officers and 20,000 civilian staff across the country.
Downing Street warned the police would have to bear a “fair share” of spending cuts.
“We want to do everything we can to keep police officers on the streets, but the priority is cutting the deficit. The police will have to bear a fair share of the burden,” a No 10 spokesman said.
Mr Thompson, who arrived in the West Midlands this week after three years as Assistant Chief Constable at Greater Manchester Police, said until the details of the comprehensive spending review were announced it was hard to predict its impact.
He said: “The public recognise that there is going to be a significant amount of work put in to reduce public service spending.
“The police are not going to be unaffected by that. The challenge here, which started with Paragon, is very much around improving the service we deliver and protecting frontline delivery.
“We want officers and PSCOs out doing police work but some covert and serious crime issues are really important for serving the public and we have to continue to still deliver that work.”
Mr Thompson said that Sir Hugh’s comments had now kick-started the debate over the future look of the country’s police service.
Under Programme Paragon, the old structure of 21 command units was ripped up and replaced with ten local policing units under a plan to help the force save about £50 million, or eight per cent of budget, over three years.
At the time it was implemented in April, Chief Constable Chris Sims guaranteed frontline services in the context of the spending cuts being described at the time but he warned if Government asked for 15 or 20 per cent in savings it could mean cuts to service.
Last month, the Government took £7 million from the force’s budget.
If cuts do threaten the number of officers on the beat, senior officers acknowledged it was important to convince the public that a number of behind the scenes roles such as monitoring sex offenders or computer crime was equally as important as visible patrols.