Sweeping changes to community policing have been revealed by Merton police bosses, as they prepare for a third of their budget being slashed in the next three years.

Merton has submitted plans to Scotland Yard that propose cutting the number of safer neighbourhood teams (SNTs) from 20 – each responsible for a council ward – to nine.

The size and resources allocated to those nine teams would would depend on the severity of the area’s crime rate.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, and Kit Malthouse, London’s Deputy Mayor in charge of policing, are demanding borough police forces scrap the existing “one-two-three” structure where each SNT has one sergeant, two constables and three community support officers.

Police: "Future doesn't look great"

Merton Borough Commander Chief Superintendent Dick Wolfenden said he had already had to cut 11 per cent of his budget for this financial year, and on Monday began working on how to reduce his budget even further.

Speaking at Merton Council last week, Chief Supt Wolfenden said: “The future doesn’t look great. We’ve got to find between 4 and 5 per cent in the next financial year.

"By 2014 I’ll be operating with 25 to 30 per cent less than I had eight months ago.

“If that was in the private sector, if someone asked you to run your business with 30 per cent less cash, most people would find that very difficult.

“My life, right now, is all about spinning plates and trying to keep the shop open. It’s been incredibly difficult and I’m fighting battles on all sorts of different fronts.”

But, he insisted, none of the cuts had so far led to a reduction in frontline police numbers. Savings have instead been made by shedding the force’s police cars, tightening allowances for overtime and petrol consumption, and even providing staff with fewer uniforms.

Merton Council: Budget cuts are "horrendous"

Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of Merton Council, said he was massively disappointed with the proposals and said they would lead to more crime.

He said: “SNTs have been a huge success, everyone appreciates that. Chopping and changing them in a way that loses that identity will lead to more crime and a greater perception of crime.

“The criminal element is very quick to learn where resources are allocated. They will move to where resources are light on the ground – you just shift the problem.”

Plans to cut the police’s budget by 30 per cent were condemned as “horrendous” by Councillor Peter Walker, the Labour-run council’s education spokesman, at a meeting of the Merton Community Policing Partnership on Thursday, January 13.

Conservative councillor David Simpson, who also attended the meeting, said he was “relaxed” about the SNT shake-up and there was significant “fat to cut” in the police force’s back offices.

Coun Simpson said: “We’re supportive of the of nine SNT bases, and I gather the idea has picked up quite a bit of momentum.

“There was talk about having five SNT bases in the borough’s five town centres, but I think everyone thought that was going too far.”

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What do you think of the budget cuts and the proposals to reform SNTs? Leave a comment below, call us on 020 8330 9540 or email: newsdesk@wimbledonguardian.co.uk.