A police sergeant has admitted his force is so stretched there are times when there is not a single available police officer in all of Cornwall.
Sergeant Mark Cooper blamed budget cuts for leaving the county totally bereft of frontline officers.
He said that police chiefs have taken staff off the beat in order to prioritise cases involving child exploitation and high-risk missing persons.
It means that there have been times when Cornwall’s population of 532,000 people have been left with no officers free to respond to 999 calls.
Meanwhile crime in the county has soared by 10 per cent, including a 30 per cent rise in rape cases in 2016/17 compared with the year before.
His remarks add to mounting national concern over the impact of police cuts on rural areas.
Cornwall Police, which covers 3,961 square miles and 523,000 residents, experiences times where there is not a single available officer across the county
Sgt Cooper, who covers Falmouth and Helston, told a council meeting: ‘I know full well, there have been incidents I am aware of where the box is empty and there’s no one available this side of Plymouth.
‘Everyone knows that the police are stretched. We’ve got a reduction in numbers. It has reduced over a number of years.
‘Unfortunately, I think the NHS and ourselves are all in the same situation.’
He added: ‘The problem we’ve got is about prioritising. We have so many jobs for child exploitation or high risk missing people that we have to drop everything for.
‘All these pressures that happen in the background do take us off the front line and take us off jobs in isolated places.
‘It doesn’t mean it’s not a priority. It just means we have to look at all of our priorities.’
Devon and Cornwall Police cover the largest area in England – 3,961 square miles in total – but in the last few years, staff numbers have plummeted.
There were 6,200 people working for the force in 2010, but that number is projected to fall to 3,900 by 2020.
Crime is on the up in Cornwall – there were 23,590 recorded incidents between April 2016 and March 2017, compared with 21,528 the year before.
Home burglaries have risen 11 per cent, shoplifting is up 16 per cent and there was a 30 per cent rise in rape cases, according to Devon and Cornwall Police figures.
Sgt Cooper made his comments to a group of councillors in a meeting of the Helston and South Kerrier Community Network Panel.
The meeting was convened to discuss concerns over the lack of officers in isolated parts of the county.
Sergeant Mark Cooper (pictured) spoke of his concern at a local council meeting in Cornwall
Organiser Maxine Hardy, a Cornwall Council officer, said it was a stretch to even get a police officer to attend the meeting.
‘In the end, we had to go through the MP to get someone here once a quarter, to have someone face-to-face,’ she said.
Chief Superintendent Jim Pearce said: ‘Devon and Cornwall Police has a very high level of public satisfaction and public support.
‘Whilst we acknowledge that at times we are stretched as a force, this is echoed nationally but we are confident that we use the resources available to protect the public of Devon and Cornwall.
‘We work hard to make sure that we have as many officers available as possible, ensuring there is a balance of local and specialist resources 24 hours a day across both counties.
‘Locally within the Falmouth and Helston sector, we maintain a threshold of officers to ensure adequate cover is provided across this policing area, understanding that local patrol staff are supported by neighbourhood officers and PCSOs, the local investigation teams, plus specialist support from roads policing, armed response officers, major crime and public protection investigators.’
In March, PC Laura Beal dramatically quit Devon and Cornwall Police with a damning resignation letter blaming crippling cuts.
She said frontline service in her mid-Devon patch had been hampered by brutal cuts and a ‘total lack of support’ offered to over-worked staff.
In an open letter posted on Facebook, she said it was ‘beyond belief’ that the public were considered to be protected.
In June, Alison Hernandez, police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, suggested homeowners with gun licences could be used to defend rural areas from terror attacks.
Speaking on BBC Radio Cornwall, she said shoot-to kill powers could be granted in the event of ‘extreme circumstances’.
Her comments came off the back of concerns over a lack of elite police marksmen in rural areas.
Earlier this year an official police watchdog highlighted the ‘potentially perilous state’ of policing across the 43 forces of England and Wales.
The HM Inspector of Constabulary report said the problems amounted to a ‘national crisis’.