A MULTI-MILLION pound investment is planned for Dorset’s ageing police buildings – with some likely to be sold off.
The changes are also expected to see more police officers based in the communities they serve, some not based at police stations.
A joint statement from the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable said that investment in the force buildings is long overdue and comes after an announcement of a new three-storey office building for Dorset Police’s Winfrith HQ site.
David Sidwick, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, said he has ensured that police officers will be better connected to communities and more visible to the public, by approving a programme of investment to modernise the police estate.
In a joint statement with Chief Constable Scott Chilton they say that a joint ‘Estates Futures’ programme will deliver a range of benefits to communities over several years, and ensure that police teams are located in the right places and have access to the necessary equipment and technology to maximise their time out in communities.
Part of the programme will be a full estates review that works with local communities to identify opportunities to increase face-to-face engagement through front counters, which may be flexibly located in more populated areas not necessarily within police stations.
A range of improvements will be made in local police stations such as better technology, more lockers and flexible working spaces to help optimise the time in stations each shift, plus respite areas to help officers deal with traumatic incidents.
The statement says that many of the current police buildings are in use far beyond their planned lifespan and, in particular, the 60-year-old headquarters building at Winfrith currently costs more to maintain than it would do to knock down and replace with a more energy efficient and sustainable building.
Other buildings that are no longer cost effective will be sold, and the proceeds used to modernise and invest in new facilities, including jointly with emergency services and council partners, where possible.
Said Mr Sidwick: “The Estates Futures Programme will secure and future-proof the Dorset Police estate for another 30 years, making every penny count and helping to deliver a better service to Dorset communities.
“We must modernise and invest in the Dorset estate due to the shockingly poor condition of some of the current buildings and the ongoing maintenance costs caused by years of austerity. ‘Make do and mend’ is no longer a viable option as it will cost more to keep the current headquarters building fit for occupation than it will to replace it with another building.
“Some of our other buildings are not well suited to the current needs and expectations of the public and in need of urgent investment. They are also not best suited to help police officers maximise their time out in communities.
“It is therefore vital we modernise our police estate by providing new buildings which will be fit for modern policing.
“We know that sub-standard buildings and equipment can lead to wasted time and inefficiency, and by offering up-to-date technology and facilities the force will improve communication to residents both in person and online, allowing them more time to engage directly and ensure all victims and communities are supported and have a voice.
“The public have repeatedly told me that they want to feel more connected to their police and that visibility is something that they wish to improve. These improvements, along with the ongoing recruitment of extra officers and better mobile technology will enable Dorset Police to better meet those expectations.”
Mr Sidwick said that staff welfare is also a vital consideration with flexible working options meaning officers will be able to adopt more digital ways of working.
Chief Constable Chilton added: “This reinvestment will ensure fit-for-purpose facilities for officers, staff and volunteers and will encourage the recruitment of the best and brightest workforce. It will also enable better working and collaboration with partner agencies to deliver an outstanding police service to the public.
“We have listened to local communities and I am delighted that this investment from the Police and Crime Commissioner will enable us to build on our earlier commitment to ensure a local approach to policing.
“Building trust and confidence with our local communities is vital in helping us to cut crime and antisocial behaviour, keep people safe and put victims and communities first.”
In their joint statement, they continued: “The Estates Futures programme provides an exciting, once in a generation opportunity to better connect policing with the communities it serves, and simultaneously replace the ageing and expensive headquarters building with a more affordable, sustainable and smarter home for Dorset Police.
“This programme will help us on our journey, not only, to be an outstanding force, but also, an outstanding supporter of the local population and economy.”
By Local Democracy Reporter Trevor Bevins