Top officer warns of 'hard choices ahead' for police forces

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A top police officer has warned of "hard choices" ahead for forces amid considerable challenges such as the terrorism threat and rising cyber crime.

David Thompson, strategic firearms lead for the National Police Chiefs Council and the chief constable of West Midlands Police, said funding pressures meant his own force might have to cut neighbourhood policing and could struggle to fully implement new guidance on missing persons cases.

He warned the public might have to "wait a bit longer" for police to respond to non-urgent calls.

The chief constable said that amid the current tempo of counter-terrorism operations, just having to "manage the day job" had created "stretch".

He added that despite the general election result, "the challenges around Brexit" could make any conversation about money "more complex".

Mr Thompson said he wanted "a straightforward conversation with Government", adding "we have an apolitical responsibility to comment on where the system is".

The chief constable of West Midlands Police said his own force had a "flat-cash" annual settlement until 2020, which was a cut in real terms .

He added police faced "considerable challenges", like tackling terrorism, a rise in cyber crime - including the recent crippling attack on the NHS - but with the same amount of cash.

The top officer said that the solution was not a "bag of money", but that "there has to be a debate around funding of local policing".

He added: "We'll make a strong submission to the Home Office in the summer over funding."

Mr Thompson was speaking at a meeting of the regional police and crime board on Tuesday, when he was asked if "dialling down" police services was a serious proposition.

He replied: "I don't think we're there at this precise moment, but it depends what happens in the revised security environment.

"If that happened more frequently, it would come quite quickly and neighbourhood policing would get stretched very quickly."

He added: "On other areas of vulnerability, like new professional procedures on missing people - I think for the force to fully implement that, it would have a significant impact on policing.

"There'll be a hard choice on that very soon."

Mr Thompson said along with recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, amid a backdrop of rising crime more generally, the warmer summer weather had led to "increasing demand".

He said: "The last few weeks have been very demanding for a number of reasons.

"Obviously the rate and pace of counter-terrorism issues that have gone on across the country.

"Thankfully, they have not touched the West Midlands but produced some stretch, generally."

The force was among those which deployed officers nationally in the wake of the terror attacks, through so-called mutual aid agreements.

He added: "We raised threat levels and it required a high amount of visible policing on the streets in the West Midlands which is demanding, as it requires us to take those officers from other duties."

But he added the hot weather had driven 999 and 101 calls to "New Year's Eve" levels over the past two weekends.

He added: "Summer has started to become a pre-planned operation because of the demand."

Mr Thompson said there were other capital costs, including a new radio system, a replacement for the police national computer and the force's own operating system.

He added: "The cost of delivering change has gone up - the Government has to make choices about what it prioritises."

Looking ahead, he said: "On less urgent calls, the public are going to have to wait a bit longer for us to come out, but this allows us to keep neighbourhood policing."

He added: "We are not alone in this challenge, this is not just a West Midlands issue."