THE ROLE of police community support officer should be axed, Wiltshire Police Federation’s chairman has said.

Insp Mark Andrews, head of the organisation representing rank-and-file officers in the county, claimed PCSOs were no longer the “cheaper option”.

Calling on the force to get rid of PCSOs and hire constables in their place, he said: “We can no longer do what we used to because we have been beaten to a standstill by the government. The time for bold decisions can’t be delayed. To do so would only further reduce Wiltshire Police’s ability to keep the community safe.”

But that suggestion was slapped down by police chiefs. Angus Macpherson, Wiltshire and Swindon’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “We have and continue to build a modern workforce with the right blend of people, skills and experience that has the capability to keep us safe as well as focus on prevention of crime. PCSOs and police staff are critical to compliment the role and skills that are central to policing in Wiltshire.”

In an open letter to those who live and work in the county, police federation Insp Andrews urged his force to follow the example set by Norfolk Police, which last year got rid of its 150 PCSOs. At least a third moved to other police roles in the county, with many joining as constables.

“Norfolk Police, similar size to us who had a similar number of PCSOs, has now removed this role with a gain of almost 100 officers, many of whom were encouraged to join from the PCSO cohort. Now is the time for Wiltshire Police to consider the same action,” said Insp Andrews.

“Over the years we have relied upon the excellent work of our PCSOs to fill the gaps, taking on more and more, which removes them from their primary function of working in the community and tackling anti-social behaviour.

“Our PCSOs are dedicated people who bring a lot of skills to the organisation but they are no longer a cheaper option.

“How can we justify having a PCSO over the PC, when there appears to be less bang for our buck?”

His comments followed a Home Office review of frontline policing, published earlier this week, which revealed forces across the country are at breaking point. Officers criticised budget cuts that, nationally, have seen staff numbers fall by 20,000 since 2010. In Wiltshire, there are around 200 fewer police officers than there were a decade ago – although an extra 45 staff were recruited this year after the police and crime commissioner increased the council tax precept.

Insp Andrews said cuts to officer numbers had led to an increase in violent crime and more mental health issues among police officers: “Our officers are expected to do more with less and our resilience and morale is now at rock bottom.”

Responding to the police federation's letter, Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said: “It is clear that we are under increasing pressure to respond to new and emerging demands so it is important that our model can respond effectively to this demand.

“Despite all of these challenges, our workforce morale remains one of the highest in the country and we continue to invest in and develop the wellbeing support to everyone at Wiltshire Police.”

He added: “Public safety remains our number one priority, so we are taking a number of measures to ensure our frontline teams have the staffing levels they need.

“We would like to reassure the public that, despite the challenges we face, we will continue to be there when you need us and our police officers and staff remain committed to providing the best possible service.”