Cuts in the number of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) could lead to an increase in crime, according to a union.

UNISON, which represents public sector workers, issued a statement yesterday reacting to a reduction of 3,500 PCSOs since May 2010.

In Essex the number has fallen by 28 per cent, the fourth largest reduction in England after City of London (71 per cent), Metropolitan Police (49 per cent) and Merseyside (31 per cent).

In the statement UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Neighbourhood policing is dying on the beat.

“PSCOs play a key role in intelligence gathering, tackling minor crimes and anti social behaviour.

“They are a reassuring and deterring visible presence in our streets and without them crime is likely to rise.

“The cuts on neighbourhood teams are putting the public safety into jeopardy.

“That is why we are calling on the Government to fund and maintain neighbourhood policing teams at their 2010 level.”

Essex Police Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh admitted difficult decsions had to be made as central govenment funding continues to be cut.

He said: “It is no secret we are facing challenging times.

“We will become a smaller police force with fewer employees and our PCSOs have already felt some of that impact but PCSOs are here to stay and will remain a key part of the way that we do business.

“I greatly value the work of my PCSOs who perform an essential role.

“They are an important connection between the police and the communities we serve.”

Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Nick Alston, said he is confident the quality of policing will not be affected by the cuts.

He said: "Since I became PCC [November 2012], no PCSOs have been made redundant and I hope that won't happen.

“I am pleased that many PCSOs have now been able to train as police officers, continuing to use the experience they gained as PCSOs in their new roles.

“We will have fewer PCSOs as we are also likely to have fewer officers, staff and even police stations.

“Crime has continued to fall through all the recent changes and I am confident the Chief Constable and his officers, PCSOs and police staff will do all they can to continue to deliver professional policing to all of us in Essex.”