Police commissioner's pledge on 'visible' presence and future of closed North East police stations

Susan Dungworth, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner.
Susan Dungworth, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. -Credit:Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

A new North East police commissioner has vowed to do “whatever we can” to reopen closed stations and boost the policing presence on the region’s streets.

Susan Dungworth was elected earlier this month as the new Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, succeeding the now North East mayor Kim McGuinness in the job. The Labour politician, an ex-councillor in Northumberland, has pledged to “build a bigger policing presence” in communities across her patch despite major financial concerns facing the force.

Ms McGuinness had previously warned in January that inflation and other rising costs had left Northumbria Police with a £7 million pressure and that the equivalent of 113 jobs would have had to be cut had she not imposed a 7.7% hike in the policing council tax precept paid by households across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. Asked how she could deliver a more visible police force, Mrs Dungworth told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) on Tuesday that she hoped to deliver schemes involving various public and private sector backing.

She said: “The Labour Party has made a commitment to putting money into policing and to increase the number of police officers across the country. But also they are being very candid with the electorate and saying they will not make promises they can’t deliver [in government].

“I think there are ways of improving and increasing public confidence in policing and in feeling safe. Working alongside the chief constable and her executive team we need to look at how we can increase that visible presence on the streets while still actually having the resources to deal with what are the big issues in crime these days – organised crime, cyber crime.”

The new PCC said she would “absolutely” be in favour of replicating a new City Safe initiative set up to tackle problems plaguing Newcastle city centre – which brings together the police, council officers, and NE1 street rangers through a new base at the City Library to share intelligence and increase support services for vulnerable people. She added: “There are more effective ways to tackle that than just police on the streets, but I recognise that is what people want and I think that is what we need to find a way to do while having the conversations about where we best target those resources.”

Mrs Dungworth, whose background is as a youth justice worker, has already faced calls to reopen police stations that have been closed to the public. The front desks of 14 stations in Prudhoe, Ashington, Whitley Bay, Cramlington, North Shields, Blyth, Morpeth, Etal Lane, Byker, Whickham, Westgate College, Washington, Houghton and Farringdon remained shut after the Covid-19 pandemic hit – a move that has sparked concerns, particularly for elderly people and those in rural communities.

Susan Dungworth started work as PCC last Thursday
Susan Dungworth, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. -Credit:Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria.

The force is currently trialling extended opening hours at its Hexham, Berwick and Alnwick stations and the PCC has said the success of that experiment will help decide whether other stations reopen, something which Ms McGuinness had committed to reviewing before she changed jobs. Mrs Dungworth told the LDRS she was “interested to see what the results are and, working with the chief constable, we will work out how to move forward on it”.

Asked if reopening stations was something she wanted to do, she replied: “If it works for the public and police, yes. In an ideal world, it would be wonderful to have police houses and all the rest back in the villages. I am keen to do whatever we can to make that work and for it to improve how people feel about the police in their areas.”

She has also vowed to continue a focus on combating knife crime and youth violence across the region and talked up the prospect of using the new mayor’s powers and resources to help secure further backing for the campaign to stop more lives being lost, as well as working with Ms McGuinness on her plans to revitalise high streets and reform public transport.

Speaking from her new office in Longbenton, Mrs Dungworth said: “We are not at the top of any [crime] league tables here but for me that is not good enough, I don’t want to be on a league table. Every life that is lost, every young person who gets involved in this and whose life is destroyed, is one too many.”

She added: “There is a knife culture in this area and there is the start of gang culture in this area and we need to be nipping that in the bud now.”

Ms McGuinness said: “Tackling knife crime and youth violence was a huge priority for me as PCC so I am pleased to see that it will continue to be a focus in the Northumbria area. I look forward to working with both our region's Police and Crime Commissioners, to make our streets across the North East safer.”