ARMED with police powers and equipped with special vehicles and uniforms, they were one county boss’s storm troopers in the war against yobs.
But after ten years of tackling underage drinkers, litter louts and graffiti artists, former leader Ken Thornber’s community safety service are set to stand down.
The 36-strong team of accredited community safety officers (ACSOs), who can issue on the spot fines, face being cut as part of plans to slash £93 million from the county council budget.
Unions and community leaders condemned the plan while the police and crime commissioner said the move may make the force’s job harder.
But Cllr Roy Perry said the work of the county’s ACSO service overlapped with the police community support officers (PCSOs), which were introduced later.
He said: “I would be the first to concede they are a good body who have done a good job. There will be no decision until January 24 and then by full Council on February 20 and I am scheduling a meeting with the police and crime commissioner well before then.
“However, we do face cuts in grant. I do not think it would be in the interests of your readers to raise council tax and we have services like libraries that are a statutory obligation and which we wish to protect as far as possible.”
But police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes said hard-pressed Hampshire Police would miss the support of the ACSOs.
Government cutbacks mean the constabulary will this year receive £41m less than four years ago.
Mr Hayes said: “ACSOs have been a valuable asset to the police and it’s so disappointing they’re being removed.
“This decision makes our task more difficult and the fact is, if we are to maintain levels of public safety, Hampshire Constabulary will have no option than to absorb this loss imposed upon us by the county council withdrawing the service of ACSOs.”
Tim Cutter, branch secretary for Hampshire Unison, said the ACSOs feel let down. He said: “I think it is shortsighted and reckless.”
Cllr Tony Hooke, deputy leader of the UKIP county council group, said: “It is a desperate shame and we will be putting another burden on the police.”
Liberal Democrat opposition leader Keith House said: “This is going to be devastating for a lot of our communities.”
Alan Dowden, a Baddesley county councillor, said the ASCOs had performed invaluable work in reducing yobbish behaviour on the Valley Estate in Chandler’s Ford, where he lives.
He said: “At one time it was plagued with anti-social behaviour and it was the ASCOs that really helped to eradicate it. They made a hell of a difference and I am really appreciative of them.
“Losing them will have repercussions on the public as well as putting pressure on the police.”