Little doubt that shutting front desks is about money

STEVE CANAVAN: My condition is a right old pain in the neck

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It’s the end of an era. From next Friday, there will be just one police station front desk open to the public in the whole of Portsmouth – and that will only be open from 8am to 10pm.

The days of people being able to go into a police station and report a crime 24 hours a day are about to disappear. Cosham’s front desk closed last month and the one at Fratton station will follow suit in just over a week. That will leave just Portsmouth Central in Winston Churchill Avenue operating in the traditional way, but on reduced hours.

The police insist that the majority of people would prefer to talk to police officers in the community and contact them by other means rather than visit a station. But there is little doubt that shutting down front desks is about saving money.

Forces are having to look very closely at how they manage their budgets and a front counter service has been identified as a cost that can be cut. Front desks are also to close down at Waterlooville and Park Gate as Hampshire Constabulary tries to save £54m by 2015.

Of course, the world is changing and we live in technological times. It may be that some people are happier getting in touch with the police via e-mail, phone or social media such as Twitter and Facebook. To them, the notion of walking into a station and waiting at a counter to see somebody is outdated.

Just as phone boxes are now an anachronism, it could be argued that police front desks also belong in the past. But there has to be a concern about those people who aren’t comfortable using technology to contact officers. Yes, they can use an intercom or dial 101 – or 999 in an emergency – but it’s not the same as face-to-face contact.

We’re pleased to see the police remain determined to be at the heart of the community, holding beat surgeries. And if freeing up officers from stations means they can be out on the streets instead, then that seems a positive move.

But we will only know how the new system works once it is underway. And if problems crop up, then we expect the police to review the way they work.