POLICE stations across South Yorkshire could be closed to the public – to help save £43 million over the next four years.
As many as 20 enquiry desks will close if plans get approval from the county’s Police Authority.
Some enquiry desk workers have already taken voluntary redundancy and will not be replaced. Police chiefs also want to free up those still in post to give them other back office jobs to do instead.
Police bosses – who need to save tens of millions of pounds after the Government slashed public sector funding – claim many stations are rarely visited by the public any more.
They say most people now use the phone to contact the police rather than visiting stations in person.
Chief Constable Med Hughes, South Yorkshire’s most senior ranking police officer, said: “We can save the public money by not keeping police stations open that nobody comes to visit. We have no plans to close stations full stop.
“We are looking at closing a significant number of enquiry desks. The ones that remain open will be open at clearly advertised times and we will be able to guarantee they will be open at those times which we cannot at the moment.
“We will continue to police from within local communities – we are not withdrawing officers, just merely public access to a desk. We have increased the number of direct telephone lines in to the police and people can get through to local policing teams. We provide public meetings for community discussions on issues of concern.”
He said all frontline officers are being issued with hand-held devices where they can check databases and issue crime numbers – the type of work enquiry desk staff used to do. The devices do away, for example, with the need for motorists to produce their driving documents at their local police station, because checks can be done when vehicles are stopped.
Chf Con Hughes said other enquiry desk functions, such as accepting stray dogs and lost property, will be stopped.
He said: “A huge amount of taxpayers’ money is spent on things we have done just because we have always done it.”
The Police Authority, which oversees the way the county’s police force is run and how its budget is spent, will discuss the closure plan over the summer.
But the idea has generated mixed reactions among Sheffield folk.
Stella Cheetham, aged 81, of Norfok Park, said: “We need more police on the streets than ever before, and having a local police station nearby makes you feel safe, so I would not like to see them close down completely. I want enquiry desks kept open so there is somewhere to go if you are in need. It’s reassuring, especially to older people.”
Steven Bell, 50, of Firth Park, said: “Some desks have been closed for some time – I went to Penistone station recently to ask for directions and the station was closed, but there was a phone outside and I got through to somebody at HQ who could not give me the help I needed.
“I think local stations should be kept open for local people – the force uses special constables and volunteers so why not have more of them to man the desks? People calling at a station want to speak to a person, not use a phone.”
Barbara Hobson, 81, of Gleadless, said: “I want police stations to be open – it makes me feel more confident knowing I can walk into one if I ever need any help. Although we don’t see the police on the streets as much as we used to police stations are part of the community and we should be able to speak to somebody there if we need to.”
But Gemma Gorman, 22, of Hackenthorpe, said mobile phones make it easier to contact the police.
She said: “We all have mobiles these days so it is quicker to make a call than walk to a local station, and the response you get is probably quicker. Closing the enquiry desks is just a sign of modern times because of all the technology we have these days.”