Police fail to quash merger rumours

POLICE chiefs have failed to rule out the merger of Hartlepool and a neighbouring town in a bid to cut costs and senior ranking officers.

The Mail understands that Cleveland police force bosses are looking at a number of options to save money – one of which is to restructure the force, merging Hartlepool and Stockton, and Redcar and Cleveland and Middlesbrough.

This would mean that instead of having four command units with a district commander in each, there would only be a need for two top police officers.

Any proposals would not be affected by Friday’s election of Barry Coppinger as Police and Crime Commissioner.

Hartlepool is currently celebrating record crime lows, while Stockton’s crime rate is on the increase – prompting fears that Hartlepool’s resources would be shared with Stockton.

Today Stuart Drummond, chairman of the police authority, said the force has not brought any such suggestion to his table but understood that it was a proposal Cleveland Police chiefs were looking at.

He said: “Cleveland Police has not brought anything to the police authority as far as reorganisation goes.

“But from what I understand they are looking at a number of options to create savings within upper management, and again, I gather that one of the options might be to go from four basic command units to two.

“As I understand it we then wouldn’t have our own specified district commander.

“There are a couple of other options and I believe the chief constable is going to be doing the rounds with local authorities with her proposals, and I assume with the new Police crime commissioner.”

He added that if such a suggestion had been brought to the authority then he “would not be keen on it at all”.

“Crime levels in Hartlepool are the lowest they’ve ever been, and at the minute we’ve got a really strong set-up in Hartlepool. if that’s diluted then we would lose a hell of a lot.

“If this proposal to merge went ahead, then there would be nothing stopping the decision makers putting resources where they are needed. Crime levels in Stockton are on their way up so that would be obvious to me that they would then take resources from Hartlepool and put them in Stockton, which is not something I’d be supporting at all.”

And Geoff Lilley, leader of Putting Hartlepool First, agreed saying: “It doesn’t take a great brain to work out that there will be a temptation or a demand to take resources from Hartlepool and put them in Stockton.

“Hartlepool Police has done really well and it would be a tragedy to blow it all with a merger.”

A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police admitted it was looking at ways to deal with cutting costs and said: “We are reviewing the way in which the force delivers policing services and the structures that support it.

“The reality is that we will have to work differently in the future. This may mean making changes to the way in which the organisation is structured so that it is fit for purpose and cost effective.

“Our priority will remain on neighbourhood policing and protecting the frontline and as such the focus will be on reducing the number of senior ranks.

“As a final decision has yet to be made, it would be inappropriate to go into further detail at this stage.”