Call to open 'Tardis' police boxes
Police forces could save cash by shutting down old-fashioned stations and opening up modern versions of the "Tardis" police box made famous by sci-fi favourite Doctor Who, a centre-right think tank has said.
A better service could be offered to the public if the police left their out-of-date stations and moved into shopping centres and post offices, the report by the Policy Exchange added.
Faced with budget cuts of 20% in the age of austerity, forces need to manage "the police estate in a smarter fashion" and become "more imaginative" with how they interact with the public, the report argued.
In London, the number of people reporting crimes at front counters has fallen by more than 100,000 - almost half - since 2006/07, the Policy Exchange said, as people turn to other forms of communication, including over the phone and online.
Professor Martin Innes, report author, said: "The truth is that most crime is reported by phone, many stations are getting old and increasingly expensive to maintain and are often located in the wrong places, away from key population centres. Rather than just thinking about closing police stations, it might be more productive to engage local people in conversations about replacing out-dated police stations with more local police offices."
Fewer than one in eight crimes received by the Metropolitan Police in 2011/12 were reported at front counters, the report said. Placing officers in high street shops and offices will save the taxpayer money, the report argued, while making it easier for the public to report crime such as anti-social behaviour incidents, only a third of which are actually reported to the police.
The decline in front counter use means that some stations see fewer than seven visitors every day, the paper said, with one survey revealing that 20% of people attend stations to report lost property.
Steve White, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said: "This is something which has been happening around the country for many years. We support any initiative which directs funding to operational policing, however police stations are accessible to the public, all day and night, something which is not provided by local shops and businesses, therefore we hope this would be taken into account."
As well as opening offices in shopping centres and post offices, the report recommends introducing Tardis police boxes, which would be high-tech contact points featuring video links for the public to communicate with the police. The boxes could be used to report crime, provide witness statements, discuss concerns and access information, the report said.
A Home Office spokesman said: "Decisions about the most effective use of resources, including the number, location and operating hours of police stations are a matter for chief constables and police and crime commissioners. We encourage forces to look at new and innovative ways of providing face to face contact with the communities they serve. Police reform is working and crime is falling. What matters is not overall funding or numbers but how effective the police are at fighting crime."