A police press office won’t be answering phone calls this week as it struggles with under staffing.
One local journalist told Press Gazette they feared it “could become the norm” as the press team at Gloucestershire Police were “clearly very stretched”.
- January 24, 2019
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In a note to journalists, police said the decision to restrict its service was “due to very short staffing”.
They added: “There is only one press officer on duty for most of this period so [we] will be open between 8.30am and 4.30pm and will not be answering any phone calls, just responding to emails.”
A phone and email service is said to be back up and running on Tuesday next week. Press Gazette understands the press office receives between 30 and 50 queries a day on average.
The journalist, speaking anonymously, said: “For the police to have a press office which only answers questions via email for a week is a bad joke – and the thin end of the wedge.
“The force has faced significant cuts over the last five years particularly, and the press office has suffered like most other departments.
“My fear is that this could become the norm. Dealing only via email sets a dangerous precedent and would lead to a deterioration in relations.
“Email communication is fine for minor, straightforward inquiries but pinging emails back and forth over, for example, a murder would be impractical and unsatisfactory.
“I feel sorry for the press team, who are clearly very stretched.”
Police forces up and down the country have faced cuts in recent years under government austerity measures aimed at reducing the country’s debt deficit.
The Met was told to make £500m in annual savings by 2015 and is said to be challenged with finding a further £800m by 2020.
In the five years from March 2010, overall UK police officer numbers fell by almost 17,000 (about 12 per cent), according to the BBC.
Since last year, the Met has been using a Twitter-first policy for local reporters, with officers and staff responding to Direct Messages to local constabulary accounts.
Press Gazette understands the new policy had brought about mixed results with responses to breaking news queries often being slow and incomplete.
The social media policy follows the closure of manned local “cluster” press offices covering parts of London that primarily dealt with local news teams.
Press Gazette understands that some local queries are also directed to Scotland Yard’s Press Bureau, although staff there are under pressure to deal with national and international press queries.