A report has revealed that 620 front-line police staff will be lost in the West Midlands as part of cuts which will also see stations closed and replaced by supermarket drop-in centres.
Almost 6,000 officers from across the UK will be lost from the frontline in three years’ time as a result of the Government’s budget cuts.
At least 179 police stations will close and one in five will lose their front counters, the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found.
Three forces – including Britain’s biggest, the Metropolitan Police, Devon and Cornwall and Lincolnshire – may not even be able to provide an efficient or effective service for the public in the near future, the inspectors said.
Steve McCabe, Labour MP for Selly Oak, said: “These figures are shocking. David Cameron said frontline policing would not be hit by his huge 20 per cent cuts to our force, but the truth is that 5,775 frontline officers across the country will be cut by 2015.
“Neighbourhood officers, 999 response and traffic police are being cut right across the country.
“The blame for these cuts lies squarely with the Tory-led government. Our Chief Constable has been put in an impossible decision by this Government’s decision to cut police funding by 20 per cent.
“We recognise savings need to be made, but the Government has doubled Labour’s cuts to police funding, and made the steepest cuts in the first two years. That’s not an attack on waste, that’s an attack on the police.”
In a bid to try to offset the closures of front desks and stations, around 137 police access counters will be set up in libraries and supermarkets.
This week West Midlands Police closed the front counter at Chelmsley Wood Police station and opened a walk-in centre at the Asda supermarket in the nearby Chelmsley Wood Shopping Centre.
Local Labour councillor Nick Stephens described it as the start of a “slippery slope”.
But Chief Supt Sally Bourner, Solihull local policing unit commander, said: “This is an innovative and ground-breaking approach which we have been working on for several months.
“We believe it is the start of a whole new approach to providing policing services to the people of the West Midlands.”
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said: “Whichever way you cut it, the resilience of the police service to be able to react to whatever is thrown at it is being threatened.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) admitted that reducing crime and increasing public confidence in policing will become more difficult over the next few years.
But Policing Minister Nick Herbert said: “This report makes it clear that the frontline of policing is being protected overall and that the service to the public has largely been maintained.
“The proportion of officers on the frontline is increasing, the number of neighbourhood officers has gone up, crime is down, victim satisfaction is improving and the response to emergency calls is being maintained.
“While there are particular challenges in three forces, we know that the vast majority are rising to the challenge of reducing budgets while protecting service to the public.”
Some 2,700 police officers had already been cut from the frontline across the UK by March this year, and this will increase to at least 5,800 by March 2015.
But the proportion of officers on the frontline will increase to between 81 per cent and 95 per cent as the number of non-frontline officers is almost halved, with 7,600 going by 2015, the report said.
The West Midlands force has set out plans to lose 1,850 employees as it battles to save £126 million over four years.
The jobs to go include 1,060 police officers, 20 police community support officers and 770 civilian staff.
Front-line police numbers will drop from 7,450 in March 2010 to an estimated 6,830 by March 2015.
However, the report by HMIC also praises West Midlands Police for improving the way it operates.
It highlights increased co-operation with Staffordshire Police, with the two forces sharing computer technology, and the force’s focus on neighbourhood policing.
Meanwhile West Midlands Police officers say they expect a repeat of last summer’s riots and are concerned about how budget cuts will affect their ability to deal with the unrest.
The majority of officers caught up in August’s disorder said similar rioting is likely, with many citing worsening social and economic conditions as the potential cause, the survey found.
More than 130 officers from eight forces were interviewed as part of The Reading the Riots research.
Nearly all those interviewed described the unrest as the greatest physical and psychological challenge of their careers and officers of all ranks said they were astonished no colleagues were killed.