OFFICERS are walking away from Merseyside Police due to mounting pressures and sickness levels are also on the rise, the Police and Crime Commissioner has said.

Jane Kennedy was facing questions at the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel regarding the force’s massive reorganisational structure in 2017.

The changes have seen the force move away from its traditional neighbourhood approach and become more centralised.

“The really difficult problem we have is that we’ve got 1,200 fewer officers than we had eight years ago,” Ms Kennedy said.

“That being the case, if we were still organised around basic command units we would have invested in that structure at the more senior ranks, officers who would be organising that area.

“What the force has done, recognising that the number of officers is reducing, it has stripped out those layers of supervision and command.”

Ms Kennedy said there has been continuing efforts to recruit and retain staff to maintain its frontline.

She also said there has been a trend of PCSOs moving rapidly into the force’s ranks, which has consequently meant PCSO numbers are “lagging behind”.

“So, there has been a perfect storm of things taking place,” she said

“Hopefully, I know we have done it with regret but, now that we have a bit more money coming in, we can afford better wages, we can afford to recruit and retain more people.

“I think it is worth noticing, for the first time in many years, people are leaving the police because of the pressures of the job, that would have been almost unheard of five to ten years ago.

“So, I accept that pressures now on the frontline service are enormous, the changes taking place are enormous, but we are hoping we have reached a period of stability over the next two years at least."

Ms Kennedy was elected to the post of Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016.

The former Minister of State for Farming and the Environment said during that time sickness levels have been steadily rising across the board.

She said: “When I was first elected as PCC, sickness absence rates, almost across the board, across the whole force would have been less than three per cent – which is phenomenal.

“Now it is about four or five per cent. In the call centre it has gone from seven or eight per cent up to the normal level for call centres, which is about 12 per cent.

“Now that is a real cause for concern and the force is aware of it and are working on it to try and correct it.”

Clive Howarth, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s chief executive, said the force is also seeing more and more mental health issues.

He said: “What’s really interesting now is we are seeing a change of language from HMIC (HM Inspectorate of Constabulary) and they acknowledge, and I quote, the acute pressure on the police service.

“And it’s probably the first time in most recent times it’s said that, and we’re seeing casualties of that, no doubt about it.”

Cllr Tony Smith, Upton ward member for Wirral Council, claimed sickness, suspensions and a lack of local knowledge is impacting “hugely” on communities.

He said since the change was implemented visibility of officers was “non-existent”.

“In communities that I represent and that I live in, it’s been horrendous really, over the last three months,” Cllr Smith said.

“I think it’s the new model, I really do. My residents say to me, we never see a police officer or a PCSO.

“We’ve got some really good officer in the area now, I’ll make that very, very clear, but I just feel they are asked to do too much altogether.

“It’s almost an impossible task.”

Ms Kennedy said the force has put in a lot of effort into “rebuilding” relationships with stakeholders that have been affected by the closure of the basic command units.

She added: “My role is to support the chief constable in taking the force through this very difficult period.

“And we’re coming through the other side of it I hope, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”