Police numbers at 11-year low


The number of police officers in the 43 forces of England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level in 11 years.

There were 128,351 police officers in the 43 police forces as at September 30 last year, the lowest number since September 2002 and a fall of 2.6% or 3,488 when compared to a year earlier, Home Office figures revealed.

Of the 43 forces, 36 recorded falls, while Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Thames Valley and North Wales saw an increase in officer numbers.

Bedfordshire Police recorded the largest year-on-year decline, with officer numbers sliding 7.4%.

There were also 64,961 police staff, a year-on-year fall of 2% and 13,552 Police Community Support Officers (PCSO), a decrease of 6%.

National policing lead for workforce development Chief Constable Mike Cunningham said: “With reduced recruitment and the considerable cuts made to policing budgets, it is not surprising that the number of officers and staff have reduced across England and Wales, and this clearly presents a challenge for the police service.

“However, the effectiveness of policing cannot be measured by the number of officers and staff alone, and the service has risen to the challenge of dealing with significant financial restraints and continued to maintain the protection of the public.”

The decline in police numbers are set against a backdrop of Government cuts to police funding, which will take a 20% hit in real terms by 2015.

There were also 4,342 designated officers, such as investigation officers, detention officers and escort officers, which is an increase of 5.9%, while the number of special constables, who are volunteers, fell 5.7% to 18,068.

But there were 2,875 police officers employed by the British Transport Police, an 8.5% increase year-on-year.

The Government has argued that crime figures, which last week revealed a 10% drop in crime against households and adults, are testament to police forces’ ability to maintain performance in the face of falling budgets.

Policing minister Damian Green said: “Police reform is working and two independent measures show crime is falling.

“Getting the economy back on track has meant the police have had to do more with less, but they have shown an impressive ability to make savings while still cutting crime.

“What matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are. HMIC has made clear that there is no simple link between officer numbers and crime levels, the visibility of the police in the community and the quality of service provided.

“Ultimately, decisions on the size and composition of a police force’s workforce are for individual chief officers and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).”

Labour’s shadow policing minister, Jack Dromey, said: “The Government is hollowing out our police service.

“Labour put 17,000 more police officers on the beat. Now, that progress has been reversed. With more than 15,000 police officers axed since 2010, David Cameron’s cuts to policing are even more drastic than the worst-case official projections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

“Violent crime is rising in many parts of the country, conviction rates are down, and the Government’s own crime figures have been rubbished by the UK statistics watchdog.

“These latest policing reductions show the thin blue line being stretched ever thinner. Much like their crime statistics, it is now clear that when it comes to protecting frontline policing and local communities, David Cameron and Theresa May simply can’t be trusted.”

Steve Williams, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents tens of thousands of rank-and-file officers, said: “These figures present the stark reality of the impact the cuts are having on the frontline.

“Police officer numbers are now at their lowest level since September 2002. There has been a decrease of 3,488 police officer numbers compared to a year earlier. That equates to a loss of invaluable skills and experience.

“The service has stood strong in the face of extreme cutbacks and unprecedented reform. It is testimony to the dedication and professionalism of the officers who remain that we are continuing to take the strain.

“There has not been a decrease on expectation on the police service to deliver. The service simply cannot sustain further cuts to officer numbers.”

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