As the Government’s austerity policies continue to bite, the effects are being felt across an everwidening area of public life.

Speaking at a conference last week, Deputy Chief Constable Derek Benson warned police resources were stretched thinner than ever before – at a time when more was being asked of the force.

Traditional notions such as bobbies on the beat, officers visiting village fetes, or officers coming out to deal with minor antisocial behaviour are fast becoming a thing of the past under the onslaught of austerity cuts.

Instead, Mr Benson said, the force would only send officers where they were most needed – dealing with violent crime, domestic abuse or other serious crime.

The force is now down to fewer than 3,000 officers and about 250 PCSOs – roughly half what it needs to properly deal with about 1,200 incidents which are reported every day.

Mr Benson said: “We have taken 700 officers out of the force in the past five years.

“Across Essex, we have approximately one police officer for every 555 people. That is an increase of 78 people per officer since 2010.

“I can see us having to lose as many as another 1,000 people in the next five years, counting officers and staff.

“The world is changing for us and we need people in Essex to understand that. Fewer officers means we need to put them in the right place to fight crime.

“Increasingly, because of domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, online fraud and other cyber crime, the right place isn’t out patrolling on the off-chance a crime might happen.

“Hidden harms such as domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation aren’t committed by people hanging around on street corners.

“The people who do it are not intimidated or disrupted by a bobby on the beat.”

Mr Benson also warned many police stations would be likely to close as the force adopted a new and different way of policing, while saving the millions the Government was ordering it to save.

Traditional police station front counters could soon be a thing of the past, with people being asked to visit a desk at their local library instead, he suggested He added: “If it’s not smart to spend £10million a year on police buildings which are out of date and not ready for modern policing.

“It’s plain daft to spend the £30million it would take to bring those buildings up to date.

“We’ve got a big, old, costly buildings created for a different time. We have police stations which see hardly any members of the public from one week to the next.

“I want officers out in communities fighting crime, not rattling around in empty buildings.”

In the future, he added, the force would be less visible, but the what policing it did would be smarter and aimed at tackling serious crimes in communities.

He said: “Austerity has driven cuts and I am not going to lie about that, but has also driven better prioritisation, more efficiency and more innovation in how we police. Much of that is invisible to the public until people really need it.”

Mr Benson’s speech clearly impressed some of those who heard it – even if the message was alarming Colin Letchford, independent councillor for Canvey East, said: “I was very impressed with his honesty, but very concerned.

“I was quite touched to hear that there were four times as many domestic assaults than burglaries.

“Policemen will be focusing more on looking after people in danger and that is something people have to live with, unless we get more economic responsibility.

“The police often get blamed, when the blame lies with the Government."