UNION leaders have warned that cuts to police community support officer (PCSO) numbers could lead to a rise in crime as new figures reveal a ten per cent drop across the region.

According to Unison, 77 front-line PCSO jobs were lost in the North-East and North Yorkshire between March 2010 and September last year.

Cleveland lost the most with numbers down by 35 to 158 officers, North Yorkshire lost 24 to 174, while Durham had 18 fewer, down from 175 to 157.

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Northumbria did not lose any officers, keeping 256 PCSOs throughout the three-year period.

The national report, Trouble in the Neighbourhood, showed that there was an overall 22 per cent reduction in the number of PCSOs in England.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “PCSOs are under growing pressure. They tell us how they have to cover larger beats and more of them have to work alone, often leading them to feel vulnerable.

"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.”

Cleveland PCC Barry Coppinger said this was an extremely challenging time as Government cuts of 25 per cent in the force budget continued to bite.

He added: “Despite this we continue to develop and improve neighbourhood policing and look to work closely with other blue light services through collaboration projects.”

North Yorkshire Police said it was currently employing 184.9 full-time equivalent PCSOs and hoped to maintain 183 in the future.

Julia Mulligan, police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire, added: “I and the chief constable recognise the crucial role PCSOs play in keeping our communities safe from harm, which is why we reversed the former police authority’s decision to cut numbers.

“This accounts for the decline from 2010 levels and the subsequent rise to today’s level, which I believe strikes the right balance to meet the needs of our communities and provide value for money.”

Ron Hogg, Durham police and crime commissioner, said that although the report showed the force has lost 18 PCSOs, four had been reassigned to different roles and four vacancies had now been filled.

“The decision to lose ten PCSOs has been taken in response to government funding cuts,” Mr Hogg added.