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Crime goes up in Kent for first time in five years as chief constable Ian Learmonth reveals force might not send officers to every offence

Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes
Kent police commissioner Ann Barnes

Crime in Kent has gone up by 9% this year, with 8,000 more offences committed than in the previous 12 months.

Kent Police said the increase was in line with other forces in the UK and was the first time in five years there had been a rise.

Chief constable Ian Learmonth said initiatives such as predictive policing meant more crime was being detected, rather than just being reported by victims.

He also said more accurate reporting of crimes accounted for a significant part of the increase.

The figures cover the crime rate recorded between October 2012 and last month.

Mr Learmonth said it needed to be considered against the backdrop of budget cuts, which had seen the force lose 500 officers as part of a £50million savings plan.

He told a meeting today where he was being quizzed by crime commissioner Ann Barnes: "Perhaps we should not be surprised we are starting to feel creaks. We know that over the last two to three years, we have seen a significant reduction in staff."

Crime commissioner Ann Barnes said budget cuts forced on the police by the government were to blame.

She said: "I am very worried, but am also reassured that the force does know why things have happened and what they need to put it right. The force has lost a fifth of its workforce and the people who are left are trying to cope with exactly the same demand.

"Half the forces in the country are also showing an increase in crime."

Former Kent Police chief constable Ian Learmonth
Former Kent Police chief constable Ian Learmonth

Asked if she would propose an increase in the police precept next year - the amount paid by residents for policing as part of their council tax - she said: "It depends what people want.

"This year we asked people to pay an extra £2.71 per household, which meant there were 100 extra officers and if that is what people want, I will have to think seriously about it."

The force expects to have to cut a further £20m from its budget in 2015-16 on top of the £50m it has cut in the last three years.

"It will be very challenging and I do not think 2015 will be the last of it by any means," said Mrs Barnes. "We have to have a debate about the impact of these cuts and not hide behind bad news."

The increase was partly connected to a rise in violent crime over the summer, which Mr Learmonth said was now stabilising, but accounted for around one in four crimes.

Kent Police might have to drop its policy of sending officers to every reported crime, according to the force's chief constable.

Ian Learmonth said the commitment could have to be dropped because there were fewer officers. Kent is one of only a handful of forces to do so.

"Can we afford to get to every crime in the future? Probably not. Could we deal with it over the phone? There are probably quite a lot of people who do not need to see an officer."

Continuing government budget cuts meant the force "would struggle to deliver services in the way we do," he added.

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