Three 17-year-olds have been sent out to uphold the law on the streets of Oxfordshire, the Mail can exclusively reveal today.

Top officers who decided to take the three on as Police Community Support Officers have denied accusations of operating on the cheap and putting the public at risk.

However the Police Federation, which represents officers below the rank of superintendent, has criticised recruiting PCSOs at that age. It fears teenagers lack maturity and life experience to cope with what the job will throw at them.

But Acting Chief Con Nick Gargan said the recruits were better than the average teenager and is prepared to employ more PCSOs under the age of 18.

He said: "They are exceptional people and it would be a shame if more people could not celebrate that fact."

Earlier this week, it was revealed Thames Valley Police had recruited two 16-year-old PCSOs in Reading.

Police Federation spokesman Metin Envercor called for a minimum recruitment age of 18, the same as regular police officers.

He said: "Anything below 18 seems far too young. They lack the appropriate life skills and experience, and dealing with the unknown factors of frontline policing.

"What we are seeing in Thames Valley is chief officers and chief constables looking at ways to save money.

"By replacing sworn police officers with PCSOs we are not getting the level of maturity and expertise which local people will quite rightly want and deserve.

"If someone does not have the level of expertise or maturity, especially in confrontational or aggressive situations, not only are they putting themselves at risk, but other members of public in danger."

In March, PCSO Nadia Naeem, now 18, joined as a 17-year-old in Bicester but was yesterday not allowed to speak to the Oxford Mail.

Mr Gargan said applicants should not be discriminated against because of their age.

He added: "I would be the first to agree the normal 17-year-old would not be ready or mature enough, but if they happen to be capable of the job on their own merits than why should we put unjustified barriers in their way?"

He also denied that PCSOs were just cheaper versions than normal police officers, but said they complemented their colleagues. Jane Lacey, Blackbird Leys city councillor, said: "Who is going to take any notice of a 17-year-old? They are just kids.

"I'm sure their heart is in the right place, but they'd have to have a bit more life experience and be a bit more streetwise if they were to come to somewhere like Blackbird Leys."

Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said it was encouraging youngsters were willing to be employed but asked for police to publish information on risk assessments.

Tony Baldry, the MP whose constituency covers Bicester, said he trusted the police recruitment process.