Fears are voiced over changes to policing across the Midhurst and Petworth area

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Concerns have been voiced over changes to the way the Midhurst and Petworth area is to policed.

Representatives from parishes across the area learned of the new role of police community support officers (PCSOs) at a joint meeting of the North West and North East Forum organised by Chichester District Council and held in Lodsworth.

From July, PCSOs will be deployed when and where they are needed focusing on local concerns rather than random patrolling.

But fears have been voiced that larger areas south of the Downs will dominate police time at the expense of rural areas such as Midhurst and Petworth.

There are also concerns that Midhurst police station will be lost.

Mark Purves chairman of Midhurst Town Council said: “We recognise there is a need to do things differently in difficult times but we need to be careful that rural places like Midhurst and Petworth don’t lose out to the bigger places which become much more of a priority for police.

“Another big concern is that there is no guarantee about the future of the police station and what level of presence there will be there.”

Chris Kemp, chairman of Petworth Town Council said a police presence was a comfort especially to elderly people.

He believed police should be more proactive in explaining the changes to residents.

“Through our neighbourhood plan work we are finding that the wellbeing factor of seeing police in our community is important. If the police don’t explain to people how this is going to operate , it’s not going to work.”

Funding cuts have forced the police to reassess the role of police community support officers across the Chichester, Midhurst and Petworth and Bognor areas.

The numbers are to drop by nearly a third with the neighbourhood policing force being cut from 35 to 26 from July.

But Chief Inspector Justin Burtenshaw, Sussex Police’s commander for the two district has told communities: “PCSOs will have a lot more skills than they have got now.

“In future, they will turn up and be able to follow through investigations from the start to the finish.

“They are also not going to be based in one area. We will have PCSOs the same as we have PCs - where the problems are.”

Assistant Chief Constable Laurence Taylor, who is overseeing the implementation of the new policing said: “Far from losing a policing presence, the local community will have PCSOs with enhanced skills and powers forming part of a wider prevention team.

“They will focus on those who are vulnerable and tackle local concerns rather than randomly patrol which is known to have little impact on crime.

He added: “Being part of the prevention team means instead of relying on a dedicated PCSO, communities with a specific issue could have a whole team who will come to them to help tackle their local problem.

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uld have a whole team who will come to them to help tackle their local problem.