THE days of the 'bobby on the beat' in Oxford are officially now a thing of the past, a top city police officer has said.

Acting Inspector Neil Applegarth, head of neighbourhood policing in Oxford, has said a targeted approach is more effective at tackling crime.

However, many still long for the return of officers on regular patrol through communities and argue that a visible police presence makes a big impact.

Oxford Mail:

The vast majority Oxford Mail readers – 87 per cent of 360 voters on our website yesterday – said they felt bobbies on the beat helped cut crime and increase the reporting of offences.

In another poll, 35 per cent of the 462 who responded said they could not remember the last time they saw an officer in their street, with 17 per cent saying they had never seen one.

Just 12 per cent said they had seen an officer in their street in the past few weeks.

Mr Applegarth, who is based at St Aldates Police Station, said that modern-day efforts were directed towards more focussed police work.

He explained: “These days we're not patrolling the streets because we tell our bobbies to go to specific areas for specific reasons.

“They don't just amble down the street anymore: if they've got the time to be ambling, they've got the time to be in a hotspot, to be in a targeted zone, to be visiting a vulnerable person, or to be visiting or chasing an offender – and those activities are far more valuable overall in meeting our goals.”

The Inspector said he saw a value in police visibility but simply felt there were better ways of enforcing law and order.

He continued: “One of the roles of the police is to reduce crime – but it's also to reduce the fear of crime.

“There is no doubt that the sight of a bobby on the beat – PCSO, police officer, whatever they are – has a reassuring effect, so that does have some value, but it's not the most effective way of reducing crime, detecting crime, or doing any of those other police functions.”

Cuts in public funding and a decline in officer numbers have helped shape the way police now do their job.

Oxford Mail: Police patrolling in the city centre

In March this year, there were the equivalent of 4,067 full-time officers in Thames Valley Police – a drop of 29 on March 2017.

Looking back further, there has been a decline of more than 300 officers since 2010. And, across England and Wales, officer numbers are down by 21,330 from eight years ago.

Craig O’Leary, chairman of officers' union the Thames Valley Police Federation, said he ‘wholeheartedly agreed’ with Mr Applegarth and linked the modern approach to a lack of resources.

He said: “We have to use our limited resources in more methodically-based processes because we don’t have the resources to send people out on foot beat in areas where, potentially, there is no crime happening.

"It’s places of active criminality where we want to see our resources targeted.”

Oxford Mail:

PC O’Leary also noted developments in the 'policing family', like the introduction of Police Community Support Officers. He said PCSOs were now fulfilling some of the roles historically filled by police officers.

Talking about the tradition of bobbies on the beat, he added: “Those days are gone and they’re not coming back.

“A change of mindset is required in terms of the public understanding of how the police have changed.”

Oxford Mail:

Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council’s lead on community safety, suggested that having a visible presence and a targeted approach could be coupled together.

He said: “I can understand the argument of using limited resources where they will have the most effectiveness – but there is also a very good argument about the effect of visible policing and its role in preventing and deterring crime.

“I hear that reported from members of the public who say they don’t just feel unsafe without visible police officers but also don’t report crimes due to a lack of visible officers.

“Police then get less intelligence and find it harder to paint a picture of what kind of crimes are happening, a picture which would help that targeted approach.”

Mr Hayes said a new task force, jointly put together by police and Oxford City Council and boasting two PCSOs and a 'problem-solving role', deliberately utilised both methods of policing.

Gina Robinson, who owns iGlasses off Cornmarket Street, was burgled in April when thieves used a lump of concrete to smash a hole in the store’s front window and steal £4,000 worth of designer glasses.

Since then she has been victim to more theft and witnessed anti-social behaviour outside the shop.

She said: “I never see the police here but it would be fantastic to have an officer, even a community officer, to pop their head in every now and again.

"Just to know that we had that support would be nice.”

To see the full results of our poll see