MORE than 160 fewer police officers are protecting communities across Devon and Cornwall because of government spending cuts, new figures have unveiled.

Statistics published this week by the Home Office show officer numbers across the force fell by 166 in the 12 months after Septem-ber 2011 – the joint sixth biggest decline nationally.

Backroom staff numbers also dropped by 89 during the same period and special constable roles were slashed by 91 from 671 to 580.

Designated officers, employed by the then police authority to exercise specific powers, were cut by 88, while PCSO recruitment rose by 15. The force, which currently has 3,146 officers was told to claw back almost £50million in budget cuts between 2011 and 2015 as part of the Government’s comprehensive spending review.

Newly appointed chief constable Shaun Sawyer said the force is now on course to meet those cuts, having taken a decision to shed staff numbers early on.

He said: “We made and implemented cuts quickly. This allowed us to take early steps towards re-structuring and we’re now in a stronger position for the future.

“Subject to any further national change, the force can now look forward to a period of stability and longer-term efficiency.

“The public can be confident that despite the savings the force has ensured that it still has the capacity and resilience to deal with major incidents, protect frontline services, continue to reduce crime, improve our service for victims of crime and sustain neighbourhood policing.”

But Nigel Rabbitts, chair of the Devon and Cornwall Police Feder-ation, said the scale and speed of the cuts had damaged operational resilience, and he accused the force of ignoring its earlier warnings about the effect it would have on frontline policing.