NEIGHBOURHOOD police teams are set to be reorganised in Oxford, with bobbies on the beat covering bigger areas.

Chief Constable Sara Thornton yesterday told councillors the 22 current neighbourhood areas and the teams covering them were too small.

She said no neighbourhood officers’ posts would be cut and larger teams would be able to staff bigger geographic areas for longer.

The associated neighbourhood action groups (NAGs) – made up of residents, police and councillors – will either remain as they are or merge, depending on what each group decides itself.

Ms Thornton told Oxfordshire County Council’s safer and stronger communities scrutiny committee the plans would be put in place after this summer’s London Olympics.

She said: “Plans are ready to go, but we’ve not pressed the button yet because it means changing people’s shift patterns.

“This will be done in October.”

Critics last night raised concerns the move would water down relationships between members of the public and neighbourhood officers.

Peter Wilkinson, who sits on the Rose Hill NAG, said: “It seems to me rather like what happened with our street wardens a little while ago, which was very much a retrograde step.

“We used to know our street wardens by sight and know their names, and they gave security and social support as well and looked after the elderly when it snowed.

“I would hate the community police to go the same way.

“We know our community officers and we are on good terms with them.”

Andy Viney, secretary of the Thames Valley Police Authority, said: “It takes a long time for relationships to build between the public and specific individuals within the neighbourhood police teams. We are still sceptical about the whole process.”

The Chief Constable also updated councillors on the latest crime figures, vowing to focus on tackling domestic burglaries in Oxford, which have risen by almost a third year on year. Ms Thornton said the rise in burglaries was linked to drug use and new criminal gangs.

She was also questioned about the high profile Operation Bullfinch investigation into an alleged child prostitution gang.

Asked whether police had uncovered the full scope of child grooming and sexual exploitation in Oxford, she said: “The issue that has been uncovered in Oxford has caused us to look at the issue across the force.”

Referring to the number of potential victims who detectives and social workers are now dealing with, she said officers still had to take statements from some victims.