Most of the new Avon & Somerset Police officers recruited in a major four-year campaign are not carrying out uniformed patrols on the beat – despite a government pledge they would be.

The force took on 558 officers – exceeding its target of 456 – as part of the Home Office’s flagship Uplift programme, which aimed to bolster frontline crime-fighting by 20,000 additional police in England and Wales between 2019 and March 2023.

But Chief Constable Sarah Crew has admitted the majority of these have been appointed into non-uniformed roles, including intelligence gathering and offender management.

She defended the decision during a monthly grilling by Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Shelford and insisted that visible policing was a priority.

It comes despite the constabulary saying last September that the 558 new recruits were “frontline officers”.

Mr Shelford asked the force’s top officer at the PCC performance and accountability board: “How are you ensuring that the additional officers are out policing in the community and not unduly tied to the desk at a station?”

Chief Constable Crew replied: “Quite a number of our Uplift posts have not been allocated directly into uniformed policing but into a number of our plain-clothes functions – 55 per cent of them.

“That would be our CID teams, our integrated offender management teams, our intelligence departments and in the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit.

“Part of that is a reflection of the changes in our demand – much crime happens online, so it’s right that we reflect the deployment of those resources so we are visible in the online frame.

“There has been a significant investment in the way we deal with rape and serious sexual offences, violence against women and girls, within that CID deployment, and that is a reflection of increasing reports, the dangerousness of the offenders and also a lack of confidence in the criminal justice response to that.

“So we’ve seen some really positive things, it’s very much about prevention and public protection, and that’s also the explanation behind our intelligence departments’ integrated offender management.

“It’s really important that we prevent as much crime and harm as we can because that means our visible resources are more able to be out on patrol in communities.

“I don’t want you to think, though, there hasn’t been a focus within neighbourhood policing and in the patrol teams on the importance of visibility.

“That’s a very big focus within briefings, within how we decide how resources are based.”

She said Operation Remedy – launched in 2019 to tackle burglary, knife crime and drug dealing – involved both uniformed and non-uniformed officers and that its successes were communicated clearly to the public.

The officer said the force could mobilise 100 officers from neighbourhoods and specialist units at any given time through Project Servator, where police are deployed unannounced to disrupt offenders in a “highly visible way”, and that this gave residents confidence and reassurance.

She told the meeting on Wednesday, January 17: “I would add the support of our special constabulary – between November and January they gave 11,000 hours which supports our other resources to be more visible, as well as being more visible through the specials themselves.

“Nearly 15,000 hours were saved by our police support volunteers doing things like running identification parades or transporting things around the constabulary.

“All of that helps our uniformed presence be much more front-footed, out on patrol and visible.”

Chief Constable Crew said GPS data from police radios showed 64 per cent of officer time across the force was spent out of the station.

“Given that some officers are necessarily in the station, it means that our visible resources are probably much higher than that,” she said.

The chief said 38 per cent of residents who responded to a public confidence survey in the last 12 months said they had seen an officer or a PCSO in the previous week.

She said: “Given our population, the spread of Avon & Somerset and the small number of officers in the population, that’s positive.

“Pre-Covid we were at 23 per cent, so that’s a 15 per cent increase.”

Chief Constable Crew said investments in technology meant officers had wires to charge laptops in cars instead of having to return to the station and that every mobile had a new app allowing them to do all their tasks remotely, such as taking statements, searching the police national database and filling in forms.

“All of that adds up to that 15 per cent increase in what people are seeing,” she said.

Mr Shelford said: “I am encouraged to hear that.

“Be under no illusions that the public see visible policing as reassurance but it also acts as a deterrent, so it’s very important.

“The business about the allocation of those Uplift officers, clearly you must remain flexible to the threat – wherever the greatest threat is, those officers need to go, and that will be a changing thing, it won’t be set in stone.”