A cash-strapped police force has opened a new station on a gypsy camp – in a converted CARAVAN.
Officers will man the police caravan twice a month for travellers to report crimes and to offer advice on security and personal safety.
The mini-station has been converted from a four-berth static caravan and comes equipped with a front desk and interview room but does not have a custody suite.
It has opened at the council-run Linehouses Gypsy and Traveller site in Goldenhill, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs.
Staffordshire Police opened the station after a string of complaints from the 150 travellers living on site which first opened in the 1970s.
Over the last six months gypsies have reported fly-tipping and being the victims of verbal abuse from members of the public.
Residents living nearby have blasted the decision, claiming police are neglecting the local population.
Doug Green, 63, has been campaigning to keep police stations in Stoke-on-Trent open over the past few months.
He stormed: “If the police wanted something at Linehouses, they may as well left Tunstall police station as it is.
“Tunstall needs to remain open too so it will be interesting to see what happens with that now.
“It doesn’t strike as a good decision.”
Dad-to-two Jacob Weston, 32, who lives near the site, said: “I understand the move has come about because those on the site aren’t happy with the wider community. We have done nothing wrong.
“We haven’t been causing trouble or doing anything criminal.
“The police force need to cut a lot of money. They are shutting Tunstall police station, and cutting hours at other ones around here.
“So it is beyond me how they can justify opening this new station. I don’t think it will work anyway.”
Taxpayers’ also criticised the decision, saying the police needed to prove the new station delivered value for money.
Dia Chakravarty, political director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “When times are hard and necessary savings are having to be made, it is crucial that every decision the authorities make delivers value for taxpayers’ money.
“If the authorities think setting up this police camp is going to help fight crime then residents are going to expect to see some results.
“Thinking outside the box can be good, but only if it yields results.”
The travelling community yesterday expressed a mixed response to the new caravan station.
Simon Doherty, who has lived on the site for 18 years, said: “This is a good idea and if anyone needs anything they can get some advice.
“It will also help to direct them to certain services.”
Meanwhile a young father in his 20s, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s yet another way the police can spy on us and make us look bad.
“The majority of people hear the word traveller and automatically think criminal and having a police presence here is just going to make it worse.
“We’ve had problems with rubbish and motorbikes driving near to the site but the police need to investigate it outside the site not inside.”
But residents living close to the site have given a cautious welcome to the new station.
Tom Simpson, secretary of Sandyford and Goldenhill Residents’ Association, said: “This is an important step towards building bridges between the travellers and the wider community.
“We have had issues and they have spilt over into the local area, but if the police can address them at source then I think we may have a positive outcome.
“Only time will tell if it is successful, but if the police can solve some of the problems in the travelling community it would be better all round.”
Officers and PCSOs will run a surgery every fortnight.
Sergeant Karl Breen, from the Goldenhill and Sandyford local policing team, said: “We are building good relationships at the site and want to build on that.
“We do a lot of work with the travellers and because of where they are, they can’t always come to our surgeries.
“When we go to the site we will have some of the residents and children tell us about issues they are having.
“We have decided to hold a surgery there so they don’t feel isolated.”
Police community support officer Jo Halfpenny added: “We hope it will encourage residents to talk to us about any problems.
“It’s a very close-knit community and we are really keen to understand any concerns they have.”
Staffordshire Police and crime commissioner Matthew Ellis said: “I hope that regular engagement will help to iron out any issues they have and to also give reassurance to the general public.”
Police will work alongside Gingerbread, a charity for single parents.
Pat Whitehouse, project worker for Gingerbread, said: “Travellers on the site may feel like they are ‘out of the system’ and we want to talk to them to work with those who are feeling isolated.
“We want to break down the issues they may be facing and help them to go out into the wider community.”
Next month Tunstall police station in Stoke-on-Trent will close in order to save #45,000 and six more are having their hours of opening reduced.