WEST Yorkshire’s Police Commissioner has re-affirmed his commitment to police community support officers (PCSOs) describing them as “integral” to neighbourhood policing.

Doubts have been cast on the future of PCSOs after Norfolk Police became the first force in the country to start a consultation about axing them in favour of recruiting more regular officers.

But West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said that funding for more than 500 PCSOs in the county had been protected for the next two years.

PCSOs were first introduced in 2002 as a back-up to frontline officers, but Home Office statistics state that their numbers have dwindled in recent years, falling from 16,918 across England and Wales in 2010 to 10,213 in March of this year.

Norfolk Constabulary says that scrapping its 150 PCSOs could save about £1.6m, with the money then potentially available to fund 81 extra regular officers and 16 support staff.

The Police Federation has raised concerns that PCSO workloads would simply be transferred to officers left behind.

In 2014, Mr Burns-Williamson helped to safeguard the jobs of 120 PCSOs across the Bradford district by pledging an extra £3.6m on top of £17.8m set aside to maintain staffing levels throughout West Yorkshire for the two years to 2016.

Bradford Council had also pledged £770,616 a year, but their funding support has now ended, with any financial commitment towards PCSOs phased out over a two-year period to this year.

Asked about the future of PCSOs in West Yorkshire, Mr Burns Williamson said: “As PCC, I have always been committed to neighbourhood policing and protecting PCSOs.

“They do a vital job in our communities keeping people safe and feeling safe, and are an integral part of neighbourhood policing, which is the cornerstone of the way we police in West Yorkshire.

“The numbers of PCSOs have been protected in the budget for the next two years, and we work closely with Bradford Council and other local authorities to ensure joint working with the police in our communities.

“That includes police being available in co-located hubs with partners, as PCSOs and local neighbourhood police officers act as that key link in our communities from the front line, providing reassurance, visibility, trust, and gathering vital community intelligence in helping to prevent crimes and anti-social behaviour.

“I will continue to urge the Government to ensure we are properly financed with the resources we need for police officers and PCSOs visible in our communities, properly equipped, where the public want them, making sure people are safe.”

A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police confirmed that the force employed 574 PCSOs across the county.

Last year, the force confirmed it was looking to recruit 300 new regular officers over a 12-month period with chances for special constables and PCSOs to make the move.

The recruitment drive, the first within the force for five years, was funded by 3.6 per cent increase in the police council tax, but the Police Federation said the extra recruits would only “maintain the status quo”, given that 1,250 officers had been cut since 2009.

The latest ONS crime statistics, published this week, showed a 17 per cent rise in crime across the county for the 12-month period up to the end of June.