Concerns over plans to merge Bradford police into new 'super force' (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Concerns over plans to merge Bradford police into new 'super force'
The Bradford district’s two police divisions could soon be merged in a bid to save millions of pounds a year, the Telegraph & Argus can reveal.
Under the current West Yorkshire Police structure, the district is split into the Airedale and North Bradford division, which includes Keighley, Shipley, Bingley and Ilkley and is based in Keighley, and the Bradford South division, which covers and is based in the city.
But it has now emerged that a review is under way to create a single, district-wide division.
As part of the cost-cutting measures, it has also been confirmed that Keighley’s police cells will shut at the end of the month, raising fears that Airedale could come off second best from the merger.
The force-wide restructure is part of an effort to save £64 million over the next three years, and members of Bradford Council have been made aware of the proposals.
A statement by Chief Constable Mark Gilmore said: “Improving performance in the face of shrinking budgets is at the heart of the proposed restructure of West Yorkshire Police divisions.
“The shape of policing is changing. Challenged by reduced budgets, we are making innovative use of new technology; ensuring officers spend more time on the street and less time in the station. We are putting officers where they are needed, in the communities they serve.
“We are confident that the reduction in Divisions and removal of police ‘boundaries’ will make us more effective, not less.”
Shipley MP Philip Davies, whose constituency is covered by Airedale and North Bradford Police, said: “This is a worrying development. I have made the Chief Constable aware of my personal concerns about merging police from Shipley and Keighley into a wider Bradford division. The worry is that the policing focus will be on the centre of Bradford and the outskirts of the district will be short changed. You’ll be less likely to see patrols in places like Oxenhope.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure we get our fair share if this happens.”
But Keighley MP Kris Hopkins defended the decision, saying: “Effective policing is what the public rightly demands. Where divisional commanders are based is of much less importance than having more officers on the ground. If a new command structure leads to better policing and more bobbies on the beat, then I am comfortable with that.”
Coun Imran Hussain, head of safer communities at Bradford Council, said: “We know a consultation is under way. The police are having to restructure as a result of massive budget cuts, and I understand there will be consultations with elected members on these proposals.”
Another casualty of police cost cutting measures is the Keighley police cells based at the town’s station – the base of the Airedale division.
From September 30 the cells will be closed, with suspects and their legal representatives having to travel to Trafalgar House in Bradford.
Chief Superintendent Angela Williams, Divisional Commander for the Airedale and North Bradford Division, said: “This is not a decision that has been taken lightly but this is a much more efficient and effective way for us to do business in what are challenging economic times.
“This will not affect front-line policing in the division at all and the helpdesk opening hours at Keighley police station will remain unchanged. It may cause some disruption to people answering bail and to solicitors’ firms as they will have to travel to Trafalgar House in Bradford city centre, but we have to look at different ways of doing business without affecting our front-line service to protect and serve the public.”
Jon Christopher, chairman of the Police Federation in West Yorkshire, said: “My concern is the safety of officers. If they have to transport a violent prisoner then they will now have to take them a further distance. I wouldn’t want to put our members at risk. Driving from the north side of Keighley to Bradford is a long way if you have a violent prisoner with you.”
Lord Mayor of Bradford, and Keighley councillor, Khadim Hussain said he was “extremely concerned” about plans to close the cells. He said: “I want to get an explanation of why they have decided to close the cells. It will be counter productive. I’m demanding a meeting with the police and crime commissioner.”
Solicitor Keith Blackwell, based at Blackwells in Keighley, fears the closure of Keighley’s cells would harm the town and will lead to solicitors and families of suspects facing long journeys to see them. He added: “It seems to me the police are losing their direction. I know they are having their budget squeezed but there must be other ways of saving money.”
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