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Southend could have had 34 volunteer police officers ready to begin patrolling the town by next summer if the council had followed through on a recruitment plan, the Conservatives have said.
Early last year, Southend’s Conservative Group suggested the council pay out £34,000 for the expenses of 34 special constables that would work exclusively in the town.
Despite the majority of councillors supporting the idea, it failed to progress and the council chose instead to bolster the size of its own community support team.
Councillor Daniel Nelson (Con) said it is crucial the joint administration, made up of Labour, the Independents and Liberal Democrats, moves forward with the original plan to prevent Southend from becoming a hotspot for crime.
He said: “We have to do something. Just the other day I read on Facebook a post that broke my heart. A lady whose children went out to walk their dog Shoebury and ended up witnessing a drug deal.
“Why would anyone want to raise child somewhere where drug deals are happening in the open? I don’t blame the police, I blame council.
“We need to step up our game, we don’t want to live in criminal hot spot.”
He accused Independent councillor Martin Terry, who oversees public safety, of making the issue “political” and said the only reason he won’t move forward with the recruitment plan is because it was from the Conservatives.
He added: “He bottled it. He had the opportunity to take the bull by the horn and bring more police to Southend, the Tories even gave him idea but he lacks bottle to do it.
“Had the council actually pursued this and started recruiting 34 officers they would be half way through training by now, which means this time next year at the height of summer season there would be 34 extra warrant card son the street.”
Cllr Terry hit back at the comments calling it a “fairy tale” that 34 could have been recruited in such a short space of time.
He said: “This is an idea that wasn’t shelved but Essex Police made it clear they were already running a strong recruitment campaign.
“I am not going to support something that would use taxpayer money on something Essex Police is already doing, it would be a waste of money. It is a nice idea but it is a fairy tale idea.
“I am dealing with reality and I am not playing political games.
“We all want more community safety, but I have to deliver that now, not in five years’ time.”
He claimed he had also been in regular contact with the chief constable as well as the crime commissioner, and he understood they had “challenges” in recruiting special constables.
This is contrary to comments made by Essex Police in February when a spokesman said there is not an issue with recruitment and there are 104 special constables currently operating in the town.
The police also said they had spoke to the council about “doing more”.