Hartlepool Borough Council is to carry out a major investigation after the town’s crime rate shot up by almost a fifth in one year.
Councillors say they are “extremely concerned” at the ”unacceptable” 18% year on year increase in reported crime and cuts to community policing.
The authority’s Audit and Governance Committee has commissioned the probe which will seek answers from senior Cleveland Police officers.
It aims to find out why crime has gone up so much in Hartlepool compared to other areas and the impact that reduced neighbourhood police officers has had on the figures.
Cleveland Police say they are having to deal with a greater demand with fewer resources.
Committee chairman Councillor Ray Martin-Wells stressed he hoped the investigation would highlight ways in which the council and other partners can work with police to improve the situation.
I would like to think we can come up with some constructive suggestions that will make matters better for all concerned because 18% is an unacceptable figureCouncillor Ray Martin-Wells
He said: “I don’t think anyone on the committee doesn’t share the extreme concern the Safer Hartlepool Partnership has at the overall increase in reported crime.
“We recognise the police do have constraints, especially financially, and I would like to think at the end of the process we can come up with some constructive suggestions that will make matters better for all concerned, especially the residents of Hartlepool, because 18% is an unacceptable figure.
“We want to see reductions not increases.”
Last year, a total of 7,308 crimes in Hartlepool were reported to police.
That was up by 1,115 complaints compared to 2013/14 when there was 6,193.
They included an extra 341 reports of violence against people, 238 of which included injuries being sustained.
House burglary rose by just over 30% with a further 82 reports.
And alleged sex offences, not including rape, increased by 82%, but it is believed a significant proportion may be historic crimes being reported after high profile cases such as Jimmy Savile and other celebrities.
Concerns around Hartlepool’s allocation of neighbourhood police, including police community support officers (PCSOs) were referred to the committee by the Safer Hartlepool Partnership.
Cleveland Police is currently reviewing how it meets demand for community policing in the light of reduced funding and 350 to 400 less officers over the last two years.
Councillor Rob Cook, who represents De Bruce ward, said: “Neighbourhood policing in this town as far as I’m concerned is non existent.”
But he added: “It’s not just any one person’s fault.”
The council investigation will also examine what plans are in place to meet future demand, understand the challenges faced by the police and how partner organisations can work more effectively to share resources.
The forum plans to meet with a host of individuals during the investigation including Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer, Cleveland Crime and Police Commissioner Barry Coppinger, Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, councillors and residents.
‘There is a greater demand with fewer resources’
Chief Inspector Lynn Beeston, Hartlepool Integrated Neighbourhood Team said: “Hartlepool local policing area experienced an increase in crime of 18% in the last financial year.
“Whilst some of this increase can be attributed to changes in recording practices and crime recording, there has been a real increase experienced.
“Cleveland Police, like all public sector bodies and as Councillors will be all too aware, has been dramatically affected by government budget cuts and has had to look carefully at how it responds to and deals with reports of crime and other incidents.
“The nature of crime that police forces are dealing with has changed in recent years and neighbourhood policing has had to adapt accordingly.
“More time is now spent on dealing with issues such as vulnerable adults, child sexual exploitation, internet based crime and organised crime along with the traditional calls for service.
“In essence, there is greater demand with fewer resources and this is the challenge we face.
“Cleveland Police is working closely with partners to identify ways of working for the future that will be mutually beneficial and in the best interests of the communities we serve.
“What I can say with absolute certainty is that the neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs who work in Hartlepool are extremely committed individuals and are working to the best of their ability on a daily basis for the residents of Hartlepool.”