A scheme to man a police reception desk with civilians has been branded “a complete fudge” and “unsatisfactory” by St Albans councillors.
Hertfordshire Constabulary and St Albans District Council have agreed to locate a police advice and information point at the public reception in the Civic Centre, but it will be run by council staff. This comes after the closure of the front inquiry desk of St Albans Police Station in Victoria Street to save cash.
However, councillors have criticised the “terribly disappointing” decision, which will come in to effect next month.
Labour councillor for Batchwood, Roma Mills, said: “This is less than I had hoped for. We asked for a police front desk and this is not what we have got – it is a complete fudge of the original offering.
“I hoped we would have retained a civilian police front desk available to the public. This is unsatisfactory. “ Council staff will be briefed on how to direct people to relevant police resources and there will also be a free phone for them to call the 101 non-emergency number to report crime, minor traffic collisions and other concerns.
Councillor Mills added: “There is a confident view that people can manage their phone and email, but when you have been a victim of a crime or have a worry about a criminal matter, you want to report to a person who is in the police.
“I was really against the loss of our front desk. A district of some thousands of residents warrants a police desk.”
Councillor Mills added she was anxious to find out where residents could report crime when the council offices are closed in the evenings and at the weekends.
County Councillor Sandy Walkington also expressed his dismay. He said: “There is good and bad in this. If they are moving into the council offices I think that is a real positive, because the council offices are becoming a focal point in the city.
“However, I would absolutely endorse that we are dismayed at the lack of police presence at the front desk.
“We have to hope these things go in cycles and people will wake up and smell the coffee and realise they have made a mistake.”
Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris White said: “It is disappointing. This is better than nothing but the original decision to close the front desk was wrong. “Clearly we need to keep on pressing the police to revisit the original mistake and decision.”
In response to criticism, leader of the council Councillor Julian Daly said it was important to “retain a police presence in the heart of the district”.
The Conservative politician said: “We aim to offer the same services for members of the public at a cheaper price for the tax payer.
“It will be a good service.
“This is based on the same model as used in Rickmansworth, which works well.”
St Albans Chief Inspector Ken Townsend said the information point was “not a replacement for the former front counter service” as it was closed five months ago because so few people used it.
He said: “People chose instead to contact police by phone, online or face-to-face at neighbourhood surgeries. There hasn’t been night-time service in St Albans for several years.
“Where people have to report to a police station following an arrest, on bail, for example, we have kept front counter services at the main police stations in the county, including Hatfield.”