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Cleveland urgently needs more officers, local leaders warn

A frontline leader and City Mayor have warned Cleveland is "grossly under-staffed".

The force with the UK’s highest crime rate needs a huge increase in officers to reduce it, local leaders have warned.

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston (Independent) and the leader of Cleveland’s Police Federation have called for a significant increase in officers.

They were responding to official data from the the Office for National Statistics which revealed crimes per 100,000 people in the year leading to June 2021 for force areas across England and Wales.

Cleveland Police emerged with the highest figure at 114.9 recorded crimes per 100,000 people.

West Yorkshire Police was in second place on the list for overall crime in England and Wales, with 111.6 crimes per 1,000 people. It was followed by Greater Manchester with 107.9 crimes.

Mr Preston said the force, which has a temporary Chief Constable in charge, was not to blame.

He argued there simply aren’t enough officers to tackle the problems – and laid the blame squarely with central government.

He said: “Everyone at Cleveland Police is working hard. And I’m personally grateful for the work that officers and all staff put in to keep us safe.

"But it’s crystal clear to me that Cleveland Police is grossly understaffed. I know this because they admit to me that they often can’t attend and fight crimes as they happen, like drug dealing in the street.”

The Mayor, a former businessman and philanthropist, said other agencies like the council had reached the limit of what they can do to help.

"In Middlesbrough, we’ve done all we can to assist the police - by allocating money and staff to make a difference - in fact our massively increased fleet of 100 CCTV cameras helps to deter and catch huge amounts of crime. But we aren’t the police and we are not - and should not - be responsible for tackling crime,” he said.

“We need the government to show that they are truly tough on crime and help us. This means that they have to invest in more officers ASAP to get dealers and other criminals off our streets.”

His concerns were echoed by Cleveland Police Federation’s Chair.

Stephen Williams-Reader said officers and staff were working at the limit to respond to huge demands – and their arrest rate matched bigger forces such as Merseyside.

He said: “We are a small force with metropolitan demands. Everyone plays their part, from control room and intelligence teams supporting officers with taskings, to neighbourhood teams targeting those that cause harm to our communities, response officers providing that essential first responder to those in need, firearm units responding every day to reports of suspects carrying firearms and other lethal weapons, and our road policing unit targeting those using the roads to cause harm.”

And the only way forward, he warned, will be having extra capacity.

He said: “How do we reduce this demand? Recruitment is ongoing but it will take a number of years for the books to be balanced. In the meantime we constantly need to look at having staff in the right places with the right equipment and training.”

Mr Preston made clear it was now a political issue that he would be raising with Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner (Con).

He said: “My support of hardworking people within Cleveland Police remains wholly intact and our teams continue to try to support hardworking police officers and staff. But clearly there’s a massive and persistent problem which started years ago.

“My role means that I am morally forced to keep raising this issue and make sure that the continuance of this awful statistic isn’t kept quiet.”

Responding, Mr Turner said there were no quick fixes: “We will get better but we cannot solve the immense problems here in the region overnight.”

He pointed out that the force is set to have an additional 250 officers in place by next March – more than the government’s target. And the force will be bolstering the frontline with more Special Constables.

But the Mayor warned his decision to go public with his concerns was only the beginning: “My role means that I am morally forced to keep raising this issue and make sure that the continuance of this awful statistic isn’t kept quiet. I am being positive and honest about the state we’re in.”

He added: “I am sure Cleveland Police can recover - being honest and open about where we’re at is the first step in any improvement journey.”

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