A police union chief warns officers could stand by and watch crimes take place if plans for single-crewed cars go ahead.

In a bid to drive down response times, Sussex Police is seeking to introduce the controversial measure which will see the number of officers in a patrol car cut from two to one.

But Sussex Police Federation has said its members could end up waiting for backup to arrive before tackling crimes if officers felt they would be put at risk.

Detective Sergeant Paul Sellings, chairman of Sussex Police Federation, said the idea of single-crewed cars belonged “in the dustbin” and was the result of cuts that have seen Sussex lose 300 officers since 2010.

He said: “If the single crewing policy stays in place we will be reminding officers of carrying out a risk assessment and waiting for back-up if their safety is compromised.

“This policy has been tried before and there is no reason to believe it will work this time. Who protects the protectors?

“The reality is that there are not enough of us left to provide the public with the quality service they deserve.

“If you pay less for something the only thing you get back is less.”


Sussex Police recently recorded one of the biggest rises in response times in the country, increasing from ten to 13 minutes.

In 2010 the force attended 90% of grade one emergency calls (those believed to involve a threat of violence, serious damage to a property, serious injury to a person or danger to life) within 15 minutes.

By July this year that figure had fallen to 72% and 7% did not get a response at all.

DS Sellings added the policy was not just dangerous but a false economy.

He said: “Officers are driving from commitment to commitment to commitment without a break.

“The force's response to this is to introduce single crewed police cars.

“But this means we cannot do the job when we get there.

“If you single crew a car and send it to a grade one emergency it normally requires another car attending.

“You then need two more officers to come to retrieve the car while the first two officers go to the custody suite.

“So that is four officers instead of two.”

Sussex Police Chief Constable Martin Richards said the measure was not about single crewed cars, but an “intelligent deployment policy”.

“The term single crewed cars is the wrong message.

“People are doing their damndest to find the right level of resources in terms of officer numbers and deployment.

“It can be how it applies or develops in a certain situation.

“For example I would not want treble crewing for taking a statement from a store detective.

He added it was about giving “discretion to do the right thing for the public”.

In a letter to the meeting read out by her chief executive Mark Streeter, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Clearly we can never take for granted the enormous responsibility placed on us to keep our communities safe from harm and as PCC I will continue to do everything within my authority to ensure our police force can deliver the very best for those living, working and visiting Sussex.

“The challenge for me is to ensure that Sussex Police is kept running as efficiently and effectively as possible and that those at the helm are properly held to account for the services that are delivered.

“As you will hopefully have seen, I will continue to ask tough questions of the Chief Constable but please be reassured that this scrutiny along with my ability to work across wider criminal justice, business and local authority partnerships is done to help breed a successful force and ultimately a safer Sussex.”

The Chief Constable admitted “times were tough” and that everyone was “feeling the pinch”.

He added: “It is not just about enforcement or number crunching.

“Victim care and support runs through every part of what we do.

“We are still relied upon by the public to serve with fairness. We still are where people turn to when they need help.

“We are taking this opportunity to change for the better.”

Balcombe protest has cost £4m - and left morale rock bottom

Policing the anti-fracking protests in Balcombe has left morale at an all time low according to Sussex Police Federation.

The operation, which is estimated to cost around £4 million, meant 12 hour shifts were “the norm” and neighbourhood policing was “abandoned” as hundreds of officers were deployed at the drilling site in Sussex.

It comes as Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, has announced she plans to apply to the Home Office for a special grant to cover some of the costs of the operation.

If successful with the application, which has not yet been submitted, it would see the Government pay for any costs above 1% of the force's total budget, which equates to about £2.5m.

The impact of the operation was not just felt by those officers suddenly finding themselves in the spotlight policing the Cuadrilla site.

The drain on resources meant short-notice shift changes for many officers, leading to uncertainty over worries such as transport and childcare costs.

Ollie Pullen, an officer in Horsham, said: “Officers on NRT (Neighborhood Response Teams) and NPT (Neighbourhood Policing Teams) are facing daily shift changes just to maintain minimum staffing on the frontline.

“How can officers plan their personal lives when they are subjected to constant changes such as this? Morale across the division is at rock bottom.”

Detective Sergeant Paul Sellings, chairman of Sussex Police Federation, added: “During the summer 12 hour shifts became the norm and neighbourhood policing was abandoned. Duty officers cancelled their annual leave to help at Balcombe. Senior officers pitched in to help.

“It was a summer most of us will never forget.”

He claimed three sergeants had resigned in the past fortnight having been frustrated by the situation and lured away by the private sector.

But he said people should be proud of the work done by officers.

Chief Constable Martin Richards admitted the Balcombe operation had been huge, saying it was the biggest he had seen.

He said: “I am very conscious of the number of events and operations when annual leave levels are at their highest.

“It is up there with anything we have seen in the service. This compares to the mining strike.”

He admitted the events in Balcombe had “stymied” work to review the “unacceptable levels of short notice duty changes” but now the operation had reduced he was committed to continue the process.

He said: “It is an area of concern. It has been raised informally and formally but was highjacked by Operation Mansell and the activities over the summer. The burden is being felt by officers.”

Morale had also been affected by a freeze on promotions which meant there were 23 acting sergeants out of a total of 468 and 18 acting inspectors out of a total of 160, but none could be permanently promoted.

It was a “tricky conundrum” agreed Chief Constable Richards but said Sussex Police invested £6 million a year into its learning and development department.

He added: “We will not be able to cope with the changes we are facing unless we continue to develop our staff.”

Sussex Police is now recruiting with 120 officers expected to be hired over the next six to eight months.

But Mark Streeter, chief executive of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, highlighted the current 5% vacancy rate and said it was imperative that recruitment was done was swiftly as possible.

He added: “The PCC is doing her level best to make sure the special constables programme is put through as quickly as possible.”

But the good news was tempered by the revelation more cuts were in the pipeline, with Sussex Police expecting to have to make saving of up to £20 million across 2016 and 2017 - on top of the £50 million worth of cuts due to be completed by 2015.

Chief Constable Richards said: “The changes we are making are not just to save money or to squeeze people out.

“If we do not our service to the public will suffer. We need to change as the world around us changes.”

Police spin doctors cost as much as 30 PCs

Sussex Police's corporate communications department has been defended despite a budget that could pay for more than 30 police constables.

The Argus has learned the current “corporate communications and public engagement” department has 26.34 full-time equivalent staff at a yearly budget of up to £832,517.

The highest earner, the head of corporate communications, earns up to £75,069 annually as a basic salary.

The department also features a head of communications strategy (on up to £56,574) and a head of communications delivery (on up to £39,807).

There are also five development communications managers and five divisional communications managers on up to £28,107.

This is despite the force seeing a reduction in officers of 300 since October 2010.

At last night's Sussex Police Federation meeting, Chief Constable Martin Richards was asked to defend the cost in the face of the plummeting number of officer and low morale.

He said: “With one-and-a-half million customers and a budget of £250 million how we are portrayed in terms of confidence in our communications is really important.

“It is not just spin or cosmetics. It is about community engagement which is not just exclusively the domain of PCs.

“They are a fundamental part of the team.

“And in terms of customer satisfaction I am delighted we have moved from the bottom of the tabled to towards the top.”

A Sussex Police spokesman added: “Sussex Police's Corporate Communications Department carries out an enormous range of tasks to support operational policing - from witness appeals for major crimes and live information during events to crime prevention advice and safety campaigns.

“It also deals with around 700 media enquiries each month, with The Argus accounting for nearly a quarter of these. The number of media enquiries has increased in the last five years. For example, the department received over 2,000 enquiries from The Argus alone last year.

“In addition, the department manages the force's website and digital communications, which were used by more than 1.2 million people last year, and oversees direct communications to the public through printed and other material.”

Deputy Chief Constable Giles York said: “We use communications to support operational policing and explain to the public how we police in Sussex. The public now expects to access information about policing in a variety of ways, for example choosing to go directly to our website or interact via social media, rather than reading traditional print media. Of course the media remains an important way to reach the public and media demands have increased, but it is no longer the first option for many local people we serve.

“As a result our corporate communications department has changed, responding to increasing demands from the media but also reflecting the growing public desire to access information in other ways. Alongside traditional media relations, the department could now be using social media to help find a missing person, running a campaign to encourage people to report domestic abuse or developing online crime reporting.

“Using professional dedicated staff to advise on communications and carry out these tasks is more effective and much better value for money than removing police officers from other duties to do so. The Force's approach in this area is recognised as good practice and we are often asked to share our model with other organisations.”

In 2008 the force's communication department was significantly smaller than those in other forces. Between July 2005 and October 2008, the branch had shrunk from 18 permanent members of staff to ten. This was reviewed in 2009 by an expert who had conducted similar reviews in several other police forces. His report identified that Sussex Police's spend on communications was in the bottom quarter of UK forces and our communications services had failed to keep pace with public demands. He recommended investment in the department and Sussex Police increased how much it spent on communications.

Since 2010, in line with other areas of the force, the Corporate Communications Department has made savings as part of the wider drive to save £50 million by 2015. The department has reduced its costs by more than 11 percent, including cutting two out of five management posts.