When I am asked about my hobbies, I describe myself amongst other things as a bit of a ‘news junkie’. That means I read a wide selection of newspapers as well as following the news on television, on radio and online. As such, I consider the opportunity to write this column both a pleasure and a privilege. It also gives me a better understanding of how the media works and perhaps explains why I am reluctant to ‘shoot the messenger’ even when I come in for criticism I might consider unfair.
I do, however, draw the line when I feel the public are being misled on a matter of public safety or confidence – as was the case in a recent report in a national newspaper about police station closures where Gloucestershire was described as a ‘community under siege’, and somewhere where ‘police risk losing control of the streets’.
It was shameless scare-mongering and showed a fundamental lack of understanding of how policing has changed and the fact that savings have to be made somewhere.
When I first took office in 2012, I promised in my manifesto to not close any more police stations and I have kept that promise. Barton Street Police Station was included in the closure list, but it was saved, refurbished and retains an important role in the multi-cultural community in the area. Coleford Police Station was also under the threat of closure but under my direction it has been expanded for community use and renamed ‘The Forest of Dean Police Station’. Similarly, Holland House in Cheltenham has been refurbished as a community police station and serves the public from the heart of town.
With the former HQ on Lansdown Road and Bearland in Gloucester, it was not a case of closing stations down. Bearland had become too expensive to justify and was sold to the County Council with the police retaining an operational base on the ground floor. After years of inactivity, the Cheltenham site was sold earlier this year generating much needed funds for the force.
The article also mentioned custody suites, saying that, ‘in 2010, there were 282, a figure which has since fallen by 45% and now stands at 155’.
Whilst it is true that in previous years there were three custody suites in Gloucestershire, they were outdated and not fit-for-purpose. It was decided that one custody suite in a centralised location would best serve the county, and in 2015, we opened Compass House, a state-of-the-art facility with more cells than our previous three put together.
I cannot speak for other areas but the way the article related to Gloucestershire without explanation did not give an accurate picture of the situation in our county, and I felt compelled to set the record straight.
If you read the article or saw the front page in your local newsagent or supermarket, and as a result were concerned at the state of policing in the county, rest assured that Gloucestershire Constabulary will continue to serve you with your best interests at heart.