Face-to-face policing at risk at St Albans station

St Albans police station

St Albans police station - Credit: Archant

THE future of face-to-face help at St Albans police station in the city centre is under threat as there are moves to axe the counter service as a cost-cutting measure.

There are fears that the station on Victoria Street will become a “half empty office block” after revelations that there are plans to close the front desk by late summer.

St Albans district councillor for Clarence, Chris White, has accused Herts Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) David Lloyd of “sneaking in” the proposed closure of the community service.

A letter sent to councillors by Herts Police warning about the proposed closure explained that costs had to be cut because of a reduction in government funding.

As a result, the police want to remove the front counter at all stations apart from the custody stations at Hatfield, Hoddesdon, Stevenage and Watford.

The letter suggests that an alternative to speaking to an officer over the counter would be to encourage vistitors to instead use an emergency phone at the entrance of the station, which links directly with the force’s communication room.

However the proposal has been blasted by Cllr White, who said that a phone could not replace a person.

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He said that if the plan came to fruition it would make “the police remoter than ever, and yet continue to occupy a valuable building in central St Albans which could have been sold off to provide more money for policing”.

Lib Dem parliamentary hopeful Sandy Walkington said: “This feels like another example of our city being diminished. Our hospital was downgraded, Oaklands College was moved out of the city centre and we need to make a stand before everything is taken away.

“It’s another way that St Albans is gradually closing as a centre of significance.”

The proposed axing follows the closure of the Harpenden police station’s counter service two years ago, and the recent closure of the London Colney police station – both cost-cutting measures which were criticised by residents.

Sandy added: “I haven’t seen any additional officers on the ground, so it seems to be a convenient excuse for the police to cut this service. People have the right to expect that they can talk to someone at the station.”

A spokeswoman for Herts Police said the proposal was to close front counters only, “not police stations”.

She said that while there would not be any public consultation on the issue, the service would undertake an internal consultation with staff on the proposal.

A survey showed that between January and April 2012, St Albans police station had about four people using the counter service per hour.

The spokeswoman said that in regard to the budget gap, there was a £38.9 million shortfall for the period 2013/14 to 2016/17.

David Lloyd said: “This is just one of the proposed measures the constabulary is considering in order to meet the financial savings required while protecting vital, core services, particularly frontline policing.”

He said that he was pushing for police to have a more visible presence in the community, and to go to where people congregate.

David added: “Far more people now choose to contact the police in non-emergency situations by telephone and via the internet than do so in person.”