The region’s Labour police commissioner has come out fighting over criticism of police station closures, saying he would rather invest dwindling funds in frontline officers than bricks and mortar.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson hit back at his Conservative critics saying: “They are happy to support austerity in Parliament, but not when it affects their constituencies.”
He spoke after last week’s announcement that 28 buildings, including many police stations, would be closed to save £8.5 million.
Conservative MPs Julian Knight (Solihull) and James Morris (Halesowen) both vowed to battle the closures and criticised the spending of £33 million the refurbishment of the Lloyd House police headquarters while making cuts to other offices.
But Mr Jamieson responded: “I would like to point out that these proposals have been made following the disproportionate cuts that West Midlands Police have faced and the overriding view that officers, not buildings keep people safe.”
The 28 facilities set to close include bases in Shirley, Sheldon, Bartley Green, Dudley, Castle Vale, Halesowen, Handsworth, West Heath, the Jewellery Quarter, Kings Heath, Kings Norton, Kingswinford, Longbridge, Perry Barr, Sparkhill and Stourbridge. None of the stations have public front desk services.
There is currently a period of public consultation over the closures and if approved the commissioner would then need to decide whether to reuse them for another purpose or sell them.
Meanwhile, the commissioner’s strategic board meeting heard that police officers were “enthusiastic” about the prospect of wearing body cameras to film arrests.
Deputy chief constable Dave Thompson said the kit gave officers confidence when tackling flashpoints and could calm tense situations before they erupted into violence.
He spoke after a £37,000 trial into their use found officers were much less likely to use force with the cameras on. Police officers said this was because suspects were less likely to protest, struggle and fight knowing they were being filmed.
Mr Thompson, who is being lined up to take over as chief constable, said: “It’s been quite hard to stop people having these cameras.
“When they have a camera they find that people modify their behaviour. Officers feel quite confident. The enthusiasm for the cameras is huge.”
Mr Thompson said he would draw up a business case to buy in more cameras and issue them to frontline response officers first.
An assessment of the finances involved will consider the savings created by use of the cameras, with video evidence said to increase the chances of an early guilty plea. Such savings will be balanced against the cost of data storage and data.
Videos will generally be wiped after 30 days unless part of an ongoing investigation, the meeting heard.
Police commissioner David Jamieson said: “The trial of body-worn cameras has increased the likelihood of securing charges. “The cameras make the police more accountable and protect officers as well. The results so far are encouraging.
“I look forward to hearing more about this scheme in future as the trial progresses and increases in size.”