West Midlands Police may have to close stations and put officers in supermarkets and doctors surgeries instead, the Chief Constable has warned.
Chris Sims said he expected even more budget cuts in the years to come - on top of the £126 million the force has already been told to save by 2014-15.
And he warned that West Midlands Police, the nation’s second-largest force, could not justify its current property empire of 146 separate sites at a time when the number of staff was being slashed by more than ten per cent.
West Midlands Police has already announced a series of cuts to opening hours at 12 stations across the region.
Mr Sims said the force was committed to making no further changes to front offices, where members of the public can speak directly to officers, until the end of the 2012-13 financial year. But this appears to suggest that changes could be made after April 2013, when the next financial year begins.
The Chief Constable made the comments in a series of reports produced for consideration at a meeting of the police authority on February 16.
Referring to recent changes to opening times, he said: “Having proposed these amendments to opening hours in response to the challenges we face it is important to note that through 2012/13 the force is committed to no further amendment to front office provision.
“Any future changes will be with both full and engaged discussion with the Police Authority and in future our Police Crime Commissioner, stakeholders and of course our communities.”
But he warned: “Over the next few years there will be further reviews of our front office estate, in particular the locations and the opening times to ensure we have open stations in the right places and they are open when they are required. We will also examine how the service can be transformed through other methods such as community volunteers, shared provision with other partners, use of technology in the community etc.”
And in a section of the report titled “The Force will need to reduce its estate”, he added: “We need to consider the best means of providing enquiry services that meet public need at reduced cost. Providing diary services can help but we need to understand the public appetite for sharing enquiry services with partners or other ways they would like us to work.”
The Chief Constable highlighted the results of a survey carried out as part of the public consultation over cuts to police station opening hours, saying: “Feedback from the on line survey shows that people are much more likely to go to locations such as doctors surgeries and supermarkets than police stations and that if the police were available in locations such as these we would be more accessible to them.”
In a separate report, also published for the same police authority meeting, Mr Sims said the size of the existing police estate could not be justified.
He warned: “By the end of 2011/12, the number of staff in the force will have reduced by around 13 per cent, but our overall estate has not reduced in line with this.
“We cannot ignore our duty to secure value for money from the estate by reducing waste, changing working practices or service levels.”
And he added: “The financial challenge presented by the 2010 Spending Review has required the force to scrutinise and challenge costs and service delivery in pursuit of needing to close a funding gap of £126 million by 2014/15.
“Recent announcements on the state of the public finances suggest that we need to seriously consider and plan for a longer period of funding constraints beyond 2014/15 and seek new and innovative ways to reduce costs.”