DEVON and Cornwall police have slashed the number of neighbourhood officers it has by half in the past five years, new research by the BBC Local News Partnership has found.

Since 201 the number of neighbourhood officers on the force has dropped by 58%, a total of 323 officers.

Falmouth Packet: Neighbourhood policing involves teams of officers dedicated to working in a local community.

Officers work on building relationships with residents and being a visible presence.

In 2015, the Police Federation chair Steve White warned the bobby on the beat was under serious threat from financial cuts, but was warned by then Home Secretary Theresa May to stop "crying wolf".

A year later, an Inspector of Constabulary, Zoe Billingham, warned that police forces could be "sleepwalking" back to an old model of policing.

And Labour’s West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has claimed neighbourhood policing had been “cut to the bone and with it crucial streams of intelligence have been lost”.

To put those claims to the test the unit analysed , police workforce data over a five-year period from 2012 to 2017.

Of the almost 11,000 police officer jobs axed in England and Wales, some 1,500 were neighbourhood policing posts - around 14% or one in seven The number of police community support officers in England and Wales dropped from 14,393 to 10,205 In Northern Ireland, the overall number of police officers dropped by 581 (8%), but the number of neighbourhood officers dropped by 77% from 1,382 to 311 Police Scotland does not classify officers in the same way nor employ police community support officers, but has 180 fewer officers overall than in 2012 Responding to the findings the Independent Office for National Statistics said: "It 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% 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 £450 million 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.”

Assistant Chief Constable Jim Colwell said: “There is no doubt policing numbers have seen a reduction in the last six years across many areas of the force.

“Supporting local communities with a visible neighbourhood policing presence remains critically important and a bedrock of policing in Devon and Cornwall.

“While the figures released may show a reduction in the number of dedicated neighbourhood staff, they do not demonstrate the number of wider police roles visible in our communities.

“Neighbourhood policing is part of every police officer and PCSO’s business, so also includes response officers, local investigation staff and other operational officers who are not reflected in these figures.”

ACC Colwell added: “The way in which we police our communities is evolving and officer’s roles and responsibilities need to change with this.

“As a force we are constantly assessing threat, harm and risk to our local communities and flexing our policing resources to meet these challenges and demands.

“We have been very honest and open with the public while making these changes and having to place greater resources in areas hidden from public view – such as child sexual exploitation and other online crime.

“Indeed, overall policing numbers in Devon and Cornwall are set to increase in the coming year to give an increased frontline presence across the entire force area.

“Within this is a firm commitment between ourselves and the Police and Crime Commissioner to maintain a dedicated neighbourhood policing model.

“Supporting communities and providing a visible, sustainable and connected policing presence across the force area remains our clear focus.”