WATCH: Special report on a day in the life of a PCC, a decade on from elected role’s creation
One of the country’s longest-serving Police and Crime Commissioners has revealed her "biggest regret" after 10 years in charge.
Katy Bourne told ITV News cuts to PCSO numbers had been "a mistake" which she "does not intend to repeat".
There were 335 police community support officers employed by the Sussex force in March 2012. That had fallen to 163 by March this year, according to Home Office data.
Ms Bourne was speaking as part of a special report to mark the 10th anniversary of the directly-elected role, which was created as part of major policing reforms by the coalition government.
She is one of only a handful of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) who have been in post since the very first election in November 2012.
Reflecting on her time as Sussex PCC, Katy Bourne said: “It was very difficult during the austerity period. I think one of my biggest regrets was the reduction in numbers of PCSOs that we made.
“We cut a third of PCSOs from the police force and, for me, that was probably one of the biggest mistakes and it’s not something I intend to repeat.
“That’s my pledge to the public going forwards, that’s my red line, we’re never going to do that again.”
Asked if she fears another round of government austerity, Ms Bourne said: “I am concerned. Inflation is our killer at the moment, the budgets are looking really difficult.
“We still don’t know what funding we’re going to get from government, even for next year. I’m waiting with bated breath. Unfortunately we are going to have to find some quite significant savings.
“We’re looking at having to probably save £17 million next year, which is far more than we anticipated. It will mean reductions somewhere. It’s going to mean some tough decisions.”
WATCH: Sussex PCC Katy Bourne discusses previous cuts to officer numbers and future austerity
While the number of community support officers in Sussex has halved since 2012, police officers – who have greater powers – have remained largely unchanged.
Sussex Police had a strength of 2,911 officers in March this year, compared to 2,959 in March 2012.
Ms Bourne insists that by the time of the next PCC elections, due in 2024, there will be “more officers” in Sussex than when she started in the role.
“The trajectory is upwards. That’s what the public want, they’ve been pretty consistent over the last ten years, they want to see more officers, they want that visibility in their communities,” she added.
Before Police and Crime Commissioners, police forces were overseen by police authorities formed of local councillors from across the area.
The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government decided to replace them, “to give local people a voice in how policing happens in their local area”, according to then Home Secretary Theresa May.
WATCH: Criminal justice expert Barry Loveday reviews the progress of the PCC project
Criminal justice researcher Barry Loveday believes the outcome of the PCC project has been something of a “mixed bag”.
Mr Loveday told ITV News Meridian: “Some PCCs have done quite a lot in improving and extending police governance but direct election has not created the responsiveness which we’d hoped for. It’s not increased public engagement.
“They don’t seem to have the public recognition that the early proponents of the system had hoped for. The aim always was to try to give them a higher profile than police authorities – their predecessor bodies – had. I have to say, I don’t think they’ve achieved that.”
But Ms Bourne argues PCCs do have greater public awareness than the old police authorities.
“Our police authority had less than one piece of correspondence a week coming into them from the public. Now, we get several hundred a week coming in. So, we know the awareness is raised, but there’s always more work to do,” she added.
That additional work will not just involve further efforts to educate the public about PCCs' work, but also to take some difficult decisions as policing braces itself for another round of government austerity.