HARTLEY Wintney Parish Council will look to employ ‘safety officers’ to patrol the streets after hearing that the number of police constables stationed in the wider area is set to be reduced.

Chief Inspector Annabel Berry, commander for the Hart and Rushmoor district, told councillors at a meeting on August 4 that from March 2015, just eight constables will be stationed in Hart – a drop from the 11 currently based in the region.

These eight constables, along with 11 PCSOs, will be responsible for four neighbourhood areas – Hart Rural North, Hart Rural South, Fleet, and Yateley, Blackwater and the surrounding area.

She was invited to speak at the meeting by councillors concerned about a lack of police presence and a perceived rise in crime in the area.

Chief Inspector Berry said: “Obviously there are concerns but I’m pleased to say that anti-social behaviour is actually down in the year to date.

“So far there have been 62 incidents, down from 74.” She said total crime was down and rural crime was reducing, adding that an increase in violence with injury was reflected force-wide.

However, she pointed out that the increase could be down to the way these sorts of crimes are recorded.

The news that the number of constables is to be reduced was met with concern from some councillors.

Cllr Roger Robertson said: “I was always used to seeing police officers on the beat. Now I can’t remember the last time I saw someone walking around the village.”

Cllr Andrew Clarke said having a police presence was particularly important in acting as a deterrent for traffic offences.

Despite some concerns from councillors about the effectiveness of Accredited Community Safety Officers (ACSOs), the council agreed to look further into the scheme.

ACSOs, run by Hampshire County Council, patrol the streets to combat low-level crime and anti-social behaviour.

While they do not have power of arrest, they can request the names and addresses of offenders and confiscate alcohol and cigarettes.

Despite concerns being raised over the scheme effectively subsidising the police, and complaints about the lack of powers of these officers, the council voted to look into the scheme and what the costs are of hiring ACSOs.