Essex Police has almost 600 fewer officers compared to five years ago, new figures have revealed.

Home Office statistics show there were 3,408 officers serving in the county in 2012.

But now the number is as low as 2,818 and has been on a steady decline each year since then.

Essex Police also has the lowest number of officers per head of any police force in England with just 0.17 officers per 1,000 residents.

Last week police, fire and crime commissioner Roger Hirst announced plans to recruit 150 extra officers in Essex after he was given the green light to lift a previous cap on council tax.

Residents will now pay an extra £12 per year on average.

Essex Police Federation chairman Steve Taylor said the lack of officers is putting pressure on those who are left.

He said: “If one of us is assaulted while on duty they might need to take time off to recover – it can run into days or weeks.

“If they are not on the frontline through no fault of their own then each officer who is left has that little more to do.

“When we are as lean as we are even one officer missing can make a difference.

“It is one less officer to got to a call for help from a member of the community.

“It is one less officer to produce reports to try and get a case to court and get a successful prosecution.

“It is one less officer to drive a patrol car to drive around and act as a deterrent to people who are intent on causing mischief.

“It is certainly not the fault of the officers or even the organisation – it is the funding situation.

Mr Taylor backed plans by Mr Hirst to recruit more officers by raising council tax and wanted to see the force get back up to 3,000 officers.

He said: “For a long time the federation has felt Essex Police does not a get a fair crack of the funding whip.

“We welcome the decision from the police, fire and crime commissioner for trying to get the most money he can for the force.

“But we are still behind where we should be in terms of funding – there is still work to do.”

Mr Taylor said large numbers of officers in Essex over the last two years had left the police completely and were moving to other forces.

He added: “It might be because of the cost of living in this part of the country but there are other places where it is relatively expensive.

“It does mean those of us left behind have to do more with less.”

Mr Hirst said he was committed to increasing the number of police officers in Essex and updated numbers showed the number of officers was on the increase.

He said: " A key priority in my Police and Crime Plan is deliver local, visible and accessible policing.

"Since being elected in 2016 we have stopped the reduction in officer numbers and identified extra funding to enable the Chief Constable to increase the number of officers we have in Essex.

"In 2017 we were able to increase the number of officers to 2850 and last year I worked hard with the Home Office on behalf of the people of Essex and secured additional funding through an increase in local council tax to increase the number of officers by a further 150.

"This will bring the total number of officers to over 3000 in the next twelve months.

“We are also investing more in new technology to support officers to spend more time in their communities rather than at their desks doing paperwork. So far this has saved over 19 minutes per shift.”