THE changing role of Police Community Support Officers could make communities less safe, their union has warned.

Sussex Police is giving PCSOs more powers and changing the way they are organised as well as cutting their number.

But Andy Stenning, head of the Sussex Police branch of Unison, said the changes risked severing their link with communities and losing vital trust and intelligence.

He said: “PCSOs will no longer be responsible for a borough or an area; they will work from a base and will go out and deal with issues.

“We don’t think that way of doing things lends itself to PCSOs developing the trust of their communities and that will be harmful to policing.

“If the general public have trust in their police they are more likely to come and tell us things; part of the reason for the problems in Belgium is they do not have the same local policing we have had.”

As well as the geographical re-organisation, PCSOs will also be given powers to issue penalty notices in licensed premises and tackle anti-social behaviour caused by drinkers. They will also be doing more investigative work.

The number of PCSOs is also being cut by around 40 per cent amid cuts that will see up to 500 police staff and 500 police officers lost by 2020.

There are 273 PCSOs in Sussex at present.

This week Sussex Police opened recruitment for the new type of PCSO, but Mr Stenning said many of the 273 PCSOs were angered this was being done amid a redundancy process while the old role is being phased out.

Sussex Police says the new role “better reflects the changing nature of crime and the needs of communities.”

A spokesman added: “The new role ensures that PCSOs will be deployed in teams flexibly, where they are most needed, to help solve local problems with communities; Chief Constable Giles York said: "With their new powers and skills they'll be better equipped to resolve problems and target crime and disorder, working with partners, as part of the prevention team.

"And should the public need to talk through local issues, not only they, but the wider team, will be at their disposal."