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Council may remove community safety officers to save money

Hampshire County Council has proposed to cease the role of the ACSO by the end of the year

Councillor Roy Perry
Councillor Roy Perry

Hampshire’s community safety officers could be taken off the streets in a bid to save council money.

Known as ACSOs and employed by Hampshire County Council, the uniformed officers have various police powers such as confiscating alcohol and cigarettes from those under age and issuing fixed penalty notices for antisocial behaviour.

The council needs to find overall savings of £93m by 2015/16 and has proposed to cease the role of the ACSO by December 31.

This means that all 33 full-time ACSOs could lose their jobs if the withdrawal is approved.

Adrian Collett, town and county councillor for Yateley, was chairman of the Hampshire Police Authority before it was replaced in 2012 as a result of the introduction of the police and crime commissioners (PCCs).

He said: “I am astonished that the Conservatives are planning to axe Hampshire’s ACSOs.

“If they think we have got too many police officers and community safety officers on our streets, then they are living in cloud cuckoo land.

“They need to understand what it’s like to be a victim of antisocial behaviour or crime.

“It is all very well for those who live in quiet villages and rarely see these problems, but for the vast majority of decent hard-working people this is a very serious issue and, while current economic circumstances mean that it’s unlikely we would get more police officers and community safety officers, they should certainly not be cutting them.”

The ACSOs, who work closely with the police and neighbourhood wardens, carry out patrols on foot to provide a reassuring presence and act as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour.

Simon Hayes, PCC for Hampshire, said he understood that all public sector organisations were facing "extremely difficult financial challenges" through continuing cuts in government funding.

But he added it would be disappointing to see ACSOs go as they had been a "valuable asset" to the police.

“This decision makes our task more difficult and the fact is, if we are to maintain levels of public safety, Hampshire Constabulary will have no option than to absorb this loss imposed upon us by the county council withdrawing the service of ACSOs,” he said.

“Residents should be reassured that Hampshire Constabulary remains totally committed to safer neighbourhoods teams remaining at the heart of our communities ‘protecting people and places’ - this commitment will not be affected in any way by the loss of ACSOs.”

Meanwhile, Hampshire Constabulary has been awarded £1.1m from the Home Office Innovation Fund to help evolve the policing service to its communities.

The bid was submitted by Mr Hayes last month and the money will be used to enhance and improve the use of technology in the detection and investigation of crime, such as rolling out the use of body-worn video devices to all frontline uniformed officers.

According to the council, there were "significant overlaps" between the ACSO service and the work undertaken by Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), of which there are 333 in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Cllr Roy Perry, leader of the county council, said: “Grant from government has been cut by 43% over the last four years and with further reductions expected beyond this year, the unprecedented financial challenges are set to remain for some time.

“Fortunately, early action by the council to cut its costs means we are in a strong position to meet our savings target of over £200m by 2015, but we cannot be complacent and take our foot off the pedal.”

The council’s policy and resources select committee was due to review the budget proposals on Thursday (January 23).

Recommendations will be considered by the cabinet on February 7, before a final decision is made on February 20.

 
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