Kent missing 20% of armed officers needed but top cop has ‘no concerns’ about county’s terror defence

PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 June 2017

Armed officers (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Armed officers (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The shortfall is currently being made up by overtime shifts, but chief constable Alan Pughsley says he expects the positions to be filled swiftly

Kent’s top cop has played down fears the county does not have the resources to cope with the heightened terror threat, after it emerged the force is lacking almost a fifth of the number of armed officers required by government.

The force currently has 81 of the agreed 100 armed firearm officers required, with the current shortfalls being covered on overtime shifts.

Earlier this week, a former Metropolitan Police chief accused the government of “lying” about the number of armed officers on the streets, in the wake of the latest terror attack to hit the capital.

Peter Kirkham, a chief inspector between 1981 and 2002, claimed the Met was “in crisis”, saying the “extra” staff were actually officers putting in 16-hour shifts or working on “rare leave days”.

However, in an exclusive interview with Kent News, the county’s chief constable Alan Pughsley moved to allay fears his officers were being overworked due to a lack of resources.

“If we were talking about 19 officers still missing in six, nine or twelve months’ time, I’d share those concerns. I don’t have those concerns at all at the moment,” he said.

“Firearms officers are regularly assessed both on welfare and a good feeling point of view because of the nature of their business, so I’ve got no concerns about officers on the street with firearms not being completely able, completely equipped and completely alert to do their job.

“And that is sustainable for some period of time because we’ve got enough officers to make sure that even with overtime the resilience is there, the work-life balance is there and they’re not on duty continually all the time.

“However, we have to recruit the officers because that’s not sustainable from a financial point of view or indeed from a welfare point of view.”

Police and crime commissioner Matthew Scott authorised a £5 hike in our council tax bills earlier this year, to fund an additional 24 armed officers as the force stepped up its anti-terror defence.

Mr Pughsley and Mr Scott say 22 of those have already been recruited, with the other positions expected to be filled later this year, with training courses remaining ongoing.

Kent Police is having to make savings of some £25m over the next three years, though chiefs are quick to stress these cuts will not affect frontline policing.

Mr Pughsley said: “The plan that we have in place is a sustainable plan for two to three years minimum, unless something dramatically changes from a financial point of view.

“The policing model will keep 3,261 police officers and that’s what will stay for the next two to three years.

“It will keep 300 PCSOs and that will stay for the next two to three years.

“That’s the minimum requirement those financial savings give us, therefore the public can be reassured that we are putting every element of money that we possibly can into frontline policing.

“On behalf of the commissioner, my job is to operationally put as many officers and staff on the streets as I possibly can, keep people safe and be as visible as we possibly can.

“That’s the savings plan that I’ve given to my staff – they have one headline which ‘protect my frontline at all costs’.”

Armed officer patrols were first introduced at key locations in the county last September, and chiefs say they have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the public ever since.

On whether we can expect to see them in more locations over the coming weeks and months, Mr Pughsley said: “It’s fluid and it’s flexible.

“We’ve got some obvious places with big footfall such as Bluewater and Ashford [designer outlet] - my officers and members of the public will see routinely armed officers in those places.

“There are other areas in the county that we will take on a threat, harm and risk basis, on an intelligence basis, but I’ll keep those sensitive and secret because I need the element of surprise sometimes with regard to criminality.

“It is right I stress, though, there is no direct or imminent threat to Kent specifically, nor indeed our public, nor indeed any areas.

“It would be remiss of me if I don’t do everything I possibly can though to make sure we’re in a place to immediately react and deal with any subsequent threat.”

Mr Pughsley also revealed some of the county’s officers were used in response to the attack on London Bridge last Saturday, but was again quick to dismiss fears it would have a knock-on effect on the level of policing in Kent.

“Balancing priority whatever the challenges is something we do on a regular basis,” he said.

“I’ve worked in London for a long time, I speak to London regularly, and their officers and staff made a fantastic response to that and get my absolute praise, thanks and credit for what they did, and I’m very pleased my officers were able to help in some small way.

“To reassure the public, I’d say we’re a big organisation, I’ve got 3,200 police officers.

“When things like that happen, the phones go red hot, people say ‘can I come to work? Can I help?’ from a discretionary, voluntary part of the business and that happened again [last week], whatever rank, whatever grade.

“My job is to make sure we’ve got systems and processes in place to make sure we manage that appropriately, because everyone wants to come in at the first minute, and that doesn’t help.

“What does help is a very planned response, and I’ve got dedicated teams who are very experienced in doing that.

“If there becomes a problem resourcing into the county, if it goes on for a long time, we go to what is called mutual aid across other force areas.

“So if there is a significant issue for Kent because the issue is in London, we can call on resources, by way of example, from Cumbria, Liverpool or anywhere else to support the national need, and we support that as well.

“So I am not concerned at all about making sure we can still deliver services locally when we respond to the national issue.”

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