THE vital number plate camera watch service that “denies criminals the use of the roads” is under threat.
Cleveland Police’s automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) unit has had major successes in getting organised criminals, dangerous drivers and drug dealers off the streets.
But it is thought that the hi-tech team of five officers and a civilian analyst could be facing the axe as part of major cuts by the force, which is reportedly seeing 10 officers each month losing their jobs.
Over the last 10 months, the team is said to have seized around £500,000 worth of drugs and cash, made 200 arrests and seized 300 vehicles, along with gleaning a host of intelligence to pass on to colleagues.
The Hartlepool Mail reported in August how £21,000-worth of cannabis and diazepam was taken off the streets of Hartlepool by the unit that uses a range of cameras set up in secret locations that read plates on vehicles and flag up anything suspicious.
Stephen Matthews, chairman of the Cleveland Police Federation, which represents the force’s officers, said: “The team do a great job. It is effective and has been a success, it has even had national recognition. But from what I have been told, this vital service is sadly going.
“And it’s not just the ANPR team, we are haemorrhaging officers at a rate of 10 a month at the moment. Every aspect of policing is being cut back on.
“We have no idea when this is going to end. There’s cuts and cuts and cuts happening at an alarming rate.
“We need to be honest with the public and admit that we are under severe financial pressures and policing is under the cosh.
“We can’t just keep saying the front line is not going to be affected, it is and I take issue when people say it won’t be.”
Assistant Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Sean White, said: “We recognise the importance of ANPR as a valuable tool in denying criminals the use of the roads and we are keen to maximise efficiency.
“We are currently working towards achieving this and I would reassure people that we are fully committed to maintaining and improving our ANPR capability.
“Final details around future plans will be communicated out in due course.”
Cleveland Police is facing a 20 per cent cut in its budget over a four-year period.
Plans show that the 1,727 officers at the beginning of the process will be reduced to 1,572 by the middle of next year, with a further 75 posts going in 2013.
The number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) will also be reduced from 197 to 182.
Mr Matthews said officers are struggling with the £24m worth of reductions.
He added: “We have done a survey on police morale and it is at an all time low.
“We are going through so many changes. There are investigations ongoing into the heads of the force while massive cuts and outsourcing is taking place.
“Officers are having more and more to do but with less.”
In an anonymous letter to the Mail, one serving police officer said: “I believe that Cleveland Police are not offering the taxpayer value for money by disbanding such a valuable crime fighting unit, and the executive should be held to account for making such a severe decision.”