Police chiefs warns that further stripping back of budget will affect services and number of officers

TOUGH DECISIONS: Cleveland police Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer talks about the force on her second anniversary at the Ladgate Lane base
TOUGH DECISIONS: Cleveland police Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer talks about the force on her second anniversary at the Ladgate Lane base

A POLICE chief has warned that more stinging cuts to her force’s budget will damage the service officers provide.

Cleveland Police’s funding has been stripped back by the government over the last few years, and the force’s pockets are set to empty even further with another raft of austerity measures expected.

Hartlepool is among the force’s districts to be hit hard as police chiefs look at ways to tighten their belts, including disbanding the force’s mounted section to save £88,000 a year.

The town suffered the loss of its superintendent and detective chief inspector positions as the force’s management team were centralised to its Ladgate Lane, Middlesbrough, headquarters.

It was also announced last week that the force will be pulling out of the community safety office in York Road, as chiefs desperately try to find ways to save money without losing more officers.

The force had set a target of losing 300 coppers by the 2014/15 financial year to reduce the number of officers to 1,400 as part of a £26m reduction in its budget.

But yesterday, on the second anniversary of taking over as chief constable, Jacqui Cheer said a further 100 officers may have to go after then as she expects another four years of cutbacks.

Mrs Cheer, who revealed in a candid interview with the Mail that her force has less than 10 officers under the age of 30 due to a recruitment freeze, said: “Where do we go next? That’s my biggest concern. That’s what gives me sleepless nights.

“We can only cut so far until we get to a point where we are talking about losing more people.

“If we can consolidate and reduce our footprint, I will be able to retain more officers. But if we have to continue to pay for the use of things such as buildings and cars, I will have to take the money out of somewhere else.

“We will try our best to not let it affect the public, but it will have an impact on services. It’s impossible to keep cutting without doing that.

“We only really know about the next two years. The prediction is more cuts. That is for everyone, not just Cleveland Police.”

She also warned that morale across the police force is low due to changes to pay and pensions, as well as the cutbacks.

But while the financial situation seems bleak, Mrs Cheer was adamant that the public will continue to have a police force “they can be proud of”, pointing out that several crime gangs have been smashed by tireless detective work in the last year alone.

She added: “A lot of the officers live in Cleveland and police in Cleveland. They do it for the safety of their family and friends. There’s a lot of pride here.”

Mrs Cheer believes that despite two years of challenges since moving from Surrey Police, there are positives on the horizon, with Operation Sacristy possibly coming to an end by the beginning of 2014.

The probe into Cleveland Police Authority saw former chief constable Sean Price and his former assistant Derek Bonnard arrested. Mr Bonnard has since been released from police bail without charge while Mr Price remains on bail.

Both were sacked by the force for gross misconduct.

There are currently nine people on bail as part of the investigation.

A file has been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and Mrs Cheer is hoping for a resolution soon.

Mrs Cheer said: “Hopefully we will know by January and everything will be in the public domain.

“I don’t want to keep saying this happened back then and this is now, but this was three years ago.

“It will be good for it to come to an end, all the information be released and people can make their minds up for themselves.

“But I think the big issue for us is what is happening out there and how we can continue to provide the service we do”.