SWEEPING changes are taking place in the way that the police operate in Tunbridge Wells.
From next month, for a trial period, some officers will be working out of Tonbridge police station as their base. But there will also be a new team for Tunbridge Wells town centre.
In a move that is described as a ‘pooling of resources’, officers with patrols in and around Tunbridge Wells will report for duty and pick up their cars in Tonbridge, which has much larger facilities than the police station in Crescent Road – though the latter will remain open for business as usual.
But otherwise the brief will remain the same and officers will continue to cover their usual detail. Beat bobbies will continue to report for duty in Tunbridge Wells.
The introduction of a dedicated crew for the retail areas of town will offer a more visible presence on the streets.
‘We will be putting them together and they will start to learn about each others’ areas, how to get there most efficiently, where certain criminals operate’
Against a backdrop of swingeing cuts to police forces across the country, with almost 20,000 fewer officers since 2010, the news will come as a welcome boost to residents and businesses. Previously, Community Safety Units have operated in other parts of the town and across the borough in places like Cranbrook.
According to Kent Police, the ‘new crew will bolster the existing numbers’ and their ‘specific remit is the retail centre at the heart of Tunbridge Wells’.
Meanwhile the use of Tonbridge as a headquarters will allow officers to get to know each others’ patches.
While they will stick to their beats, it is hoped that they will be able to deploy more quickly in response to major incidents because of shared knowledge.
A spokesman said: “Kent Police is continually reviewing how best to deploy its resources in order to provide the best possible service to communities and businesses throughout the county.
“This currently includes exploring ways in which officers based at Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells police stations can work together more closely, effectively and efficiently.
“We will be putting them together and they will start to learn about each others’ areas, how to get there most efficiently, where certain criminals operate. They will know that they can call on their other colleagues to help.”
There had been fears that the amalgamation of officers in Tonbridge would lead to a decline in the policing of Tunbridge Wells – and even the eventual closure of the station.
A former Chief Inspector of the Metropolitan police, Peter Kirkham, who has become a fierce critic of cuts to the service, tweeted last weekend: “Hearing that District Policing Team (Kent’s equivalent of Response Policing) is being totally withdrawn from Tunbridge Wells which will now be policed from many miles away.”
He added: “A major town of 75k [75,000 population] that will have no police presence since, er, the days of [Sir Robert] Peel!”
Kent’s Chief Inspector Chris Mayers responded: “There will be no reduction in the number of officers available for patrols or to attend incidents, as a result of any changes made.
“I’d like to reassure residents we will continue to have officers based at Tunbridge Wells Police Station, where we will also be creating an additional team dedicated to policing the town centre.
“Changes to the policing model for this part of West Kent will see a greater number of officers based at Tonbridge Police Station, however it is important to understand that, as before, they will also continue to serve the Tunbridge Wells area.”
The new strategy comes into force in February and will be subject to review after a period of several months.
“There will be ongoing assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of any changes we make,” said Mr Mayers.
“However, we are confident that both Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge can actually benefit as a result of greater resources overall and having the two districts working together more closely will enable us to provide additional support both in rural and town areas.”
Figures show that Tunbridge Wells is one of the safest boroughs in the county despite a five per cent rise in crime in the year ending September 2016.