ALF Hitchcock, the new Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, is already familiar with Luton and is confident he can handle the town’s policing challenges.
Speaking to members of the media at the Bedfordshire Police headquarters in Kempston on Wednesday, Chief Con Hitchcock said he had already made himself known to Luton officers.
He said: “Before I started the job on January 4 I wondered how I could best get an impression of what policing in Bedfordshire was all about.
“So I arrived at Luton police station at 7am that first day for the morning shift – I don’t think anyone down there was quite expecting that!”
Chief Con Hitchcock, who arrives in Bedfordshire following a seven-year stint in the Metropolitan Police, said challenges like the English Defence League march on February 5 would always bring the best out in him. Although the force has not been granted a banning order on the march, Chief Con Hitchcock has been impressed with the operation his officers have in place.
He said: “We have not gone down the banning order route because the conditions are not quite right for it, but I will be keeping a close eye on proceedings.
“The problem with banning orders is that you cannot stop people coming into the town and protesting, and if they do when an order has been enforced then the people who do turn up can become disorderly very quickly. I must emphasis that I am not part of the command as far as this operation goes, but I will be present throughout.”
Chief Con Hitchcock said he did not agree with the view that Luton has an image problem as far as crime is concerned.
He said: “I have heard a lot about what is being done in the community, and between the police and the community to make the town safer.
“I like the partnership projects and the emphasis on reducing the effect crime can have on the night time economy, especially making the town safer for students from the University of Bedfordshire.”
One of the greatest challenges facing Chief Con Hitchcock and Bedfordshire Police as a whole is the reduction in the budget, to the tune of 20 per cent.
He admits that with 60 police officer jobs being axed in the first year and as many as 40 going in the second year, the force will be stretched, but he is still confident of achieving his aims.
He added: “We know it is going to be 60 in the first year and it could be 40 in the second, and I have to tell you that at the moment we are not even thinking about years three and four, I don’t know what the numbers could be then.
“But we have listened to the public and we know that one thing that is as important as ever is good neighbourhood policing and close relations with the community.”
The officer losses would be carefully managed so that areas identified as priorities would not be compromised in any way. Chief Con Hitchcock said: “We will be looking at areas of the force where a reduction in officers can be counterbalanced by bringing in support from elsewhere, and especially neighbouring constabularies. Roads policing and surveillance are two areas where, for example, our close work with Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire Police will help to reduce the impact.”