THE scale of the challenge facing a police force has been underlined after a study found residents ranked it the lowest of key local services – below councils, buses, trains and health services.

North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan said communities were feeling the consequences of police being forced to prioritise in the face of pressured budgets.

She said: “There are stresses and strains on the system now that are really quite challenging.”

Councillors told a meeting of North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel they were shocked by the survey’s finding that the police service was favoured less than other public services.

They said the public’s natural instinct was to hold the police in high regard. Mrs Mulligan added officers felt they were being “pulled from pillar to post”.

The Conservative commissioner said she had commissioned the survey to be able to hold the force to account after receiving increasing concerns about neighbourhood policing.

The responses of 1,410 residents and traders provided a snapshot of public sentiment towards neighbourhood policing across North Yorkshire. The report revealed more than 40 per cent of people were worried about becoming a victim of crime in their local area.

Fear of crime was found to be lowest in Richmondshire, with 30 per cent of respondents being very or fairly worried, and highest in Selby, where 52 per cent of respondents had significant concerns.

It also found more than 40 per cent of people felt unsafe walking in their local area after dark and a fifth feel unsafe in their own home after dark.

The meeting heard it was clear there was “a significant level of dissatisfaction about policing in North Yorkshire”, with almost half of survey respondents are critical of North Yorkshire Police.

The survey also found members of the public felt the police service was deteriorating, particularly in relation to crime prevention and speed of response.

The study identified a lack of faith in the police’s ability to understand a wide range of crime types and anti-social behaviour were among the main concerns raised.

Mrs Mulligan said priorities highlighted by the survey did not match those identified as the biggest challenges for policing nationwide.

The meeting was told the central challenge was meeting public expectation of a good quality, visible local police service and national expectations of improved responses around serious and emerging crime.

Members heard serious and hard to investigate crimes were often “hidden” from public view, and therefore it was often hard for communities to see the benefit.

After referring to a number of child sexual exploitation scandals, including at Ampleforth College, assistant chief constable Phil Cain told members the “tap of demand was overflowing” and the force was working to balance its use of resources.

He said: “I think it’s time for us to take stock. There are some significant issues in our communities that we have had to invest in.”