TWO Cheshire towns are demanding that the job of policing their streets switch from Cheshire Police to the Merseyside force.
Political leaders in Runcorn and Widnes want to break away from Cheshire Police because they are unhappy with the numbers of officers on the beat and say they are impressed by Merseyside's high-profile neighbourhood policing initiatives.
The Daily Post has learned that leaders of Halton Borough Council - the local authority for the two towns - have had informal and "exploratory" talks with the Merseyside Police Authority over the issue. The move would be the first time a borough council has unilaterally tried to switch police forces.
Tony McDermott, leader of Halton Borough Council, said: "There is a feeling that the priorities of Cheshire Police are perhaps naturally more akin to the more affluent areas of Cheshire.
"For instance, there is a higher priority on traffic and speeding in Cheshire than in Merseyside. Our problems are more akin to St Helens and Huyton than Congleton and Macclesfield. We need to start a process to identify all the available resources for any long term change."
Runcorn and Widnes are part of the Halton Division - one of the six which make up the Cheshire force.
The division has some of the highest crime figures in Cheshire - although the numbers are still considerably lower than Merseyside.
There is on average 71.6 crimes for every 1,000 people in Widnes and Runcorn - compared with the Cheshire average of 62.5. An average of 116.2 crimes are committed in Merseyside for every 1,000 people.
Carol Gustafason, chairwoman of Merseyside Police Authority said: "It would be inappropriate to comment on the matter at this stage."
Halton councillor and former Cheshire Police Authority member Pat Tyrrell said he was impressed with Merseyside Chief Constable Norman Bettison's neighbourhood policing policies. He said: "I have a lot of misgivings about the way the police handle things in Halton."
Coun Peter Nurse, chairman of the Cheshire Police Authority, warned the loss of Halton could lead to council tax increases in the county to cover the higher policing costs.
"There are parts of Merseyside with much bigger problems than Halton and they might find themselves worse off. We have had discussions with Merseyside about this and they do not wish for Halton to join them."