Dorset Police is considering cutting the number of beat officers in the face of huge spending cuts.

The force is reviewing staffing in the Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT).

Politicians and the Police Federation have warned it could lead to an increase in crime – and take the public back to the days when officers were only seen in patrol cars.

A member of one Bournemouth residents group told the Echo: “We’ve been told by our local officers there will be fewer police on the beat.”

The SNT’s were introduced in 2007. Each team, made up of several PCs and PCSOs covering a few thousand residents, tries to build up good relations in its area and deal with local crime, especially by prevention.

The Echo has recently reported on how pleased residents of West Howe and Boscombe are with their SNTs.

Poole Cllr Lindsay Wilson, a member of Dorset Police Authority, said: “The SNT’s help with a lot of major issues too – for example with child protection.

“They know everything that’s going on with their patch. There’s nothing definite planned for them at the moment but I do worry about what’s going to happen.”

Police officer numbers are falling, both in general and within the SNT, as officers leave and are not replaced.

The ongoing review could then lead to a permanent cut in the SNT staffing levels.

Clive Chamberlain, chair of Dorset police Federation, said: “My concern is that if they start to cut back community policing we will have problems for the future.

“If you look back in the 1960s they took police officers of the streets and put them in cars and it almost alienated a whole generation of people from the police.

“I have no criticism whatsoever of the chief constable on this – he is having to make decisions about how to position his officers. I blame the government.

“We cannot stand 20 per cent cuts and I believe the worst is yet to come.”

PC Will Martindale from Boscombe SNT, told the April meeting of Boscombe Business Forum its strength was about half of what it used to be.

He said: “Officer numbers are going down all the time and it does impact on the streets.

“As I am sure you have noticed over the last few months it has affected us.

“We are doing our best but it’s tough times.”

Andy Pedrick, chairman of the Creekmoor Community Association, said: “The SNT has done a really good job and ourcrime figures are quite low.

“It’s a concern to think they would be cut, things could change for the worse.”

Chief Constable Martin Baker wrote to Dorset Police Authority members in February and said the SNT’s were the one part of the force that is staffed to the same level as other forces.

He called for a rise of up to 3.95 per cent in the precept, the levy on local Dorset taxpayers, to help protect the SNT’s from the cuts in government funding.

He warned: “It is clear that the reduction in government funding means the resources available to neighbourhood policing cannot necessarily be protected.”

However Dorset Police Authority, a body made up of local councillors and independent members, voted for no change in the precept.

Bournemouth Cllr Nick King, a member of the body, said: “I would suspect many Dorset Police authority members would be very unhappy were SNTs to be cut.

“We have asked for a report on what they plan to do to come before us in June.”

Chief Superintendent Martin Hiles confirmed to the Echo: “Our current recruitment freeze for both officers and staff is unlikely to be lifted for at least two years.

“Therefore we are reviewing the numbers of Safer Neighbourhood Teams we have and their areas. No decisions have been made and no recommendations have been put to the Police Authority.”

Inspector Chris Weeks said there had been no formal change to the Boscombe SNT staffing level.

Police officers are marching in London against cuts and changes to pay on May 10.