The impact of massive cutbacks in community policing in Lancashire has been laid bare by shocking new figures.
Across the country, thousands of community support and neighbourhood officers have been axed in the past five years, including almost 200 in Lancashire.
In Lancashire, the number of neighbourhood officers and PCSOs has been cut by 25 per cent since 2012.
And the number of officers is at its lowest in the last five years.
The figures - released today as part of a national investigation - pose concerning questions about the future of neighbourhood policing.
However, the Home Office has said change is required, with more focus now on fraud and computer based offences, adding that funding for forces across England and Wales will increase next year.
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said the figures highlight the “very real impact” of the government’s austerity policies.
The report, published by the BBC Local News Partnership, comes in the same week as several police station counters across Lancashire have been closed to save funds.
Concerns have also been voiced by residents and community groups that low-level crimes - such as vandalism and anti-social behaviour - are becoming increasingly difficult to combat with fewer “bobbies on the beat.”
Nine in 10 people who responded to a recent Post survey said they thought crime had not eased in the last decade, while almost half said they had been a victim of crime.
Mr Grunshaw said: “Protecting local policing is a key priority in my Police and Crime Plan, ensuring that Lancashire Constabulary have the resources to keep our neighbourhoods safe.
“These figures highlight the very real impact from years of the Government’s continued austerity in policing, which have meant Lancashire Police has had to make savings of over £72m since 2010, with an estimated £17m in further savings still to find.
“Partners have also had difficult financial decisions to make, withdrawing funding towards PCSOs in what is further evidence of the cuts across the public sector having a real impact on policing in Lancashire.
“I have maintained my commitment to match all PCSO funding from partners and will work with them to mitigate the impact where funding is withdrawn.”
In Lancashire, there are now 473 fewer police officers in the county than there were in 2012. That includes 180 fewer neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs - a reduction of 25 per cent.
Across England and Wales, the number of police community support officers has dropped from 14,393 to 10,205, the investigation found.
Of the almost 11,000 police officer jobs axed in England and Wales, 1,500 were neighbourhood policing posts.
The Home Office said rates of traditional crimes are falling, against a backdrop of rising fraud and computer based offences. A spokesman said: “The independent Office for National Statistics is clear that overall traditional crime is continuing to fall, and is now down by almost 40 per cent since 2010, while fraud and computer misuse - the most commonly experienced crime - has reduced by 15 per cent in the past year.
“We know the nature of crime is changing, and we’ve spoken to every police force in the country to understand the demands they are facing.
In December, we set out a comprehensive settlement to strengthen local and national policing, which will mean police funding will increase by up to £450m next year.
“We are clear that effective local policing needs to be about more than just visibility in isolation. With crime increasingly taking place behind closed doors and online it is also about safeguarding vulnerable groups or individuals and giving the police the powers they need to deal with emerging and hidden crimes.”
Mr Grunshaw added local policing teams were still a “key” part of the force and that he was lobbying the Government for “fairer funding”.
It was announced this week that nine more police front counters will be closing before the end of March. Kirkham and Poulton are shut from today, while others including Leyland, Bispham, St Annes, Clitheroe and Ormskirk will follow on March 29 to save £1m.