In some cities those needing to speak to an officer are directed to a free phone outside the council offices.
More than 600 police stations have shut since 2010 in the largest closure programme in policing history.
Some forces have closed more than half their stations. In Gloucestershire, 21 out of 28 police stations, including Tetbury, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Moreton-in-the-Marsh, have shut.
Cities such as Bath and St Albans no longer have a dedicated station. St Albans police station was closed in 2015, and residents in the city of 140,000 are directed to a “free telephone to police control room” outside the council offices. London alone has lost 100 police stations in the past eight years.
The scale of the closures has been revealed under freedom of information laws as policing is overhauled amid budget cuts and new threats from online crime and terrorism. The Sunday Times disclosed last week that one in three bobbies on the beat had been axed in three years as recorded violent crime surged.
“Police stations in town centres provide a visible reassurance,” said John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, which represents more than 100,000 rank-and-file officers. “One has to question the decision to withdraw visible policing from the streets.”
Figures from 38 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales show how traditional stations with front desks, custody suites and emergency response officers have borne the brunt of cuts.
Since 2010, 606 police stations have been closed. In Thames Valley, 24 out of 60 stations have shut, including Buckingham, Beaconsfield and Charlbury, as part of a drive to save £40m.
In Hungerford, a Berkshire market town with a population of 5,000, the axed station has been replaced by a police base at the fire station, but residents are told to report crime elsewhere.
“There’s no doorbell here and we’re behind three sets of doors, so we won’t hear if someone knocks,” an officer is reported to have told a public meeting. “It’s not designed as a police station open to the public.”
Cleveland has shut 12 police stations since 2010. This triggered a protest by residents, who carried banners proclaiming: “We need to feel safe. We need police presence.” Graham Cutler, 53, co-owner of the Railway Arms in the village of Brotton, east Cleveland, said: “It was horrendous. We were having cars and garden sheds broken into because the criminals knew there were no police.” Police patrols were increased after the protests.
In South-mead, a suburb of Bristol, residents complained that shutting the local station triggered a summer of discontent last year. Riot police were deployed to restore order after arson attacks on cars, joyriding and open drug-dealing. Police later announced a permanent new station at a hospital, featuring an inquiry desk and acting as a base for the neighborhood policing team.
In some areas, residents complain the closure programme has worsened response times. In London, the number of “significant” calls where police failed to respond in an hour nearly tripled in the three years to 2016-17, from 61,602 to 172,847. A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London said the government had forced the Metropolitan police to find £1bn of savings. “Closing police stations is the stark reality of crippling government cuts. The government has cut policing to the bone.” Since 2010, central government funding of the police has fallen by about 20%, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Thames Valley police said a review had found some police stations with front counters had few or no visitors: “Bricks and mortar has little to do with policing. We now utilize a model whereby officers . . . have access to technology such as laptops and mobile phones so their office can be anywhere.”
Avon and Somerset police said that out of 21 police stations shut since 2010, 12 had been replaced with other dedicated police stations or front counter services. Sue Mountstevens, the force’s police and crime commissioner, said she was protecting neighborhood policing. “Police stations don’t keep people safe, people do,” she said.
The Home Office said: “Police have the resources they need to carry out their vital work. However, we know the nature of crime is changing. That is why we provided a settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by over £460m in 2018-19, including increased funding for local policing through council tax precept.”
By The Sunday Times