In these days of austerity and ongoing budget cuts our police forces have rarely been so stretched.
Numbers of frontline officers have gradually decreased as cutbacks have been enforced, so our PCSOs have rarely played a more important role.
In Chronicle Country they form the forefront in the battle against crime, taking care of the main patrols in the area while PCs can be brought in at any time.
With police officers operating in more of a response role, neighbourhood policing is very much the preserve of the PCSO.
PCSO Helen Randall is a familiar name and face in Biggleswade, and is well-received as we drive around the town.
We are looking for a man in his thirties who, it has reported has taken an overdose of pills and needs to be located immediately.
The man is thought to be in a garage in a residential area of the town, and there are concerns that he could be trying to harm himself further.
We have a garage number in mind but actually finding it is proving tricky.
But then a woman flags us down and PCSO Randall follows her to a garage where the man has tried to shut himself in.
He is sitting in the driving seat of a car with the engine on, and with the car’s fumes building up around him, he seems to be trying to harm himself further.
PCSO Randall and the woman manage to pull the semi-conscious man out of the car and there is an anxious wait while paramedics and further police officers are called.
They arrive and some emergency response officers give the man air, bringing a defibrillator along in case his condition worsens.
Thankfully he improves before long and is transferred to an ambulance.
The news is good.
PCSO Randall says: “He should be all right – he will go to hospital for tests but he has come round ok.”
It is later confirmed that the man made a full recovery and the incident shows just how vital a PCSO’s job can be.
PCSO Randall adds: “When I first started I was worried that people would treat me like a plastic police officer but the reality is actually the opposite.
“Most people are fine to deal with and really appreciate us.”
Sandy is the next destination for the afternoon, this time in the company of PCSO Ann Jeeves. The town is PCSO Jeeves’ area and we head straight to a road where there has been a report of a catalytic converter being stolen from a vehicle.
PCSO Jeeves is surprised as there have been fewer reports of such thefts in recent months.
She says: “It can be hard to predict as you will sometimes have a spike in incidents but then it goes quiet again.
“A lot of scrap metal dealers will no longer buy catalytic converters which helps greatly as it means they are being targeted less now than they were before.”
The resident is not at home so we try some neighbours, who are happy to talk to PCSO Jeeves but unfortunately cannot help with any information.
She adds: “We are very community-led and I think this makes us quite approachable, which really helps when it comes to intelligence and getting to know your area.
“I often find that I will be dealing with one job but while I’m there someone will approach me and tell me about something else.
“I think a lot of people find it easier to talk to a PCSO on the street than they do ringing the 101 number. I suppose it’s more informal.”
While PCSO Jeeves is talking to one neighbour the resident, a man in his sixties returns home.
He is happy to let us in and PCSO Jeeves talks to him about what happened and gives advice, as well as giving him leaflets providing additional information.
Shefford is the next town on our itinerary, and this time we will be accompanying PCSO Gill Richardson.
PCSO Richardson is actually Bedfordshire’s longest-serving PCSO, having signed up when the role was first introduced 10 years ago. She still enjoys it just as much as she did then.
She says: “It has always suited me more than being a PC. When I first joined I had young children and being a PC wasn’t really practical with the overnight shifts.
“We start early in the morning but we won’t normally work later than midnight, when the response officers and specials take over.”
We park up close to a main road where a Speedwatch operation is in process. Volunteers Hugh Blackwood and Mike Butcher are at the side of the road where they monitor a speed indication device.
They take down the registration numbers of speeding vehicles, which are passed to PCSO Richardson who then writes to the offending motorists.
Community policing is very much the way for PCSOs, and PCSO Richardson’s next job is to visit a couple who have reported an attempted burglary at their home.
Unfortunately they are out when we call so she leaves a card and some advice and information leaflets.
But the visit shows how criticism of the police is often unfounded and sometimes unfair.
The neighbourhood PC may largely be a thing of the past but the neighbourhood PCSO now fulfils the same role – and provides a great deal of reassurance with it.