The thin blue line is starting to look very threadbare

Gangsters, burglars, cyber criminals, they must be sitting back and rubbing their hands gleefully at today's news.

Thursday, 1st February 2018, 6:00 am

They, like us, will pay no heed to the Home Office mantra that traditional crime has fallen by almost 40 per cent since 2010, while fraud and computer misuse is down by 15 per cent in the past year.

What they will be delighted to see is the continuing fall – nosedive is a better word – in the number of police officers at all levels of the Hampshire force.

Perhaps most worryingly, nearly 140 neighbourhood officers have been axed in the past five years – down from 516 to 334.

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And for the first time Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) now outnumber neighbourhood police officers in Hampshire.

In case you are confused: the latter are full-time ‘proper’ coppers while PCSOs are uniformed civilian police support staff.

Like their full-time buddies, they do a thankless job which we would not belittle, but they are not the same.

Crucially, PCSOs come cheaper and, as ever, that is what this is all about, budget cuts.

Hampshire Constabulary needs to make cuts of £24.75m by 2021/22 on top of £82m savings since 2011/12. The force is looking to get rid of 162 posts to save £7m.

These are cuts forced on it by the government.

Yes, there are undoubtedlysome backroom staff who could go, but when swingeing cuts like these are tearing the heart out of frontline policing surely we’ve reached a tipping point?

Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter is right when he says the cuts are ‘breaking’ the service.

Everyone except the government can see that... including those bad guys who are just waiting to make hay.