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Police stations: Are they a thing of the past?

The closing of police stations across the UK has caused communities to voice concern for several years. There are no official figures showing the number of police station closures nationally. However, estimates suggest that around 600 police stations across England and Wales were shut between 2010 and 2018. In a recent debate on Rural Crime and Public Services, Louise Haigh MP, Shadow Minister for Policing, said nearly 400 stations had closed in England and Wales and counters open to the public to report crimes fell from more than 900 in 2010 to just over 500 today.

This Insight looks at why police stations are closing and what impact this is having on community-police relations.

What counts as a police station?

Police stations can vary substantially, both in size and the level of service provided. Some will have one or several custody suites, while others might offer a counter where members of the public can report crime, alongside offices and break rooms for officers. Closing a police counter can impact how safe a community might feel. Closing or reducing custody suites might mean that suspects will have to be transported further before being questioned or charged, thereby incurring longer hours and stress on both the suspect and police officers involved.

Why are police stations closing?

Police forces cite budget pressures as the reason for station closures. A 2018 Public Accounts Committee report found that, “forces are selling off more of their assets to try and raise some funds for capital investment and increasingly drawing on their reserves.”

Whilst budgetary pressures may be the main reason police chiefs say they are closing stations, they also point to changes in public behaviour. Developments in technology mean that people can report non-urgent problems online or via phone and are often choosing to do so instead of reporting crimes at a police counter. The London Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime has noted that the number of people who reported a crime at a police counter was down by 22% between 2016 and 2006.

What has the Government said?

Central government devolves responsibility of funding allocations to police forces, so that Police and Crime Commissioners (in conjunction with their Chief Constable) are responsible for local policing decisions, including how they meet they use their funding and what estate of police stations they need. Nick Hurd, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, has said: The Government believes in local policing accountable to local communities. This is why decisions on the number of police stations and their locations are for Chief Constables and directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and Mayors with PCC functions. They are best placed to make these decisions based on their local knowledge and experience.”

Text from "Police stations: Are they a thing of the past?" by Alison Pratt, a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in Home Affairs.

Police stations: Are they a thing of the past? | UK Parliament | 28 May 2019

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