Falling police numbers mock Tory promises

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The number of police officers in England and Wales has dropped in the past year despite government pledges to get more bobbies on the beat, a survey by The Independent reveals.

Chief constables are becoming increasingly concerned about being able to meet growing costs, including the expense of new protective equipment and computers, at a time when the public is demanding ever more policing.

A survey of all the police forces in Britain shows that more than 40 per cent of the 43 constabularies in England and Wales have lost officers during the past year leaving the total strength down by 57 to about 127,000. This follows the announcement by John Major at last year's Tory party conference to provide funding for an extra 5,000 officers during the next three years. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has also bragged that funding for the forces in England and Wales rose by pounds 240m to pounds 6.8bn this year.

An additional pounds 20m was made available this year which is supposed to provide an extra 1,000 officers. Although the drop recorded by The Independent may be small any evidence that numbers are declining rather than increasing will be very damaging to the Government's claim to be the party of law and order in the run-up to the election.

Every force in Britain, expect Avon and Somerset which said its current force strength was "confidential", provided their latest year-on-year comparison. The largest cuts have been for Merseyside police, Cumbria, Lincolnshire, Metropolitan, South Wales, Staffordshire, Suffolk, and Thames Valley.

The eight Scottish forces have faired slightly better, but only with a net increase of 168 officers.

Part of the problem is that some police chiefs, who have recently been given the power to decide exactly how they spend their budgets, are using their funds to buy equipment rather than officers. This has been exacerbated by a series of new developments for which no extra money has been provided, including the creation of a national DNA database, providing stab and bullet proof vests, and most recently CS sprays.

Richard Wells, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, writing in his annual report last month, accused the Government of cutting spending on buildings and technology in order to pay for the 5,000 promised extra officers. He also added that all forces are so overstretched because of a lack of resources that they sometimes cannot send officers to serious accidents. "The police service everywhere in the country is feeling overrun," he said.

A further problem is the growing bill for police pensions. In the past, contributions from officers' salaries covered the money paid out to pensioners but in recent years the cost of benefits has steadily outstripped the value of money paid in. The deficit, which is pounds 800m this year, is already more than 12 per cent of the total pounds 6.8bn revenue, and is predicted to reach pounds 1bn by the turn of the century.

However some forces have increased their civilian numbers - although others have taken significant cuts - which has freed more constables to work the beat and carry out operations.

During the survey Merseyside police, which has suffered a drop of 292, said that the decline was due to reduced funding. "We would very much like to have more officers," said a spokesperson, while Derbyshire constabulary, which has seen a cut of 32, said its position was "not improving". Dorset has a recruitment freeze "for financial reasons" but Lincolnshire (a deficit of 48) promised a new recruitment drive. South Wales (-75) cited a "financial crisis" and Suffolk (-60) said that although it had money for an extra 35 officers it had "budgetary problems" and may have to spend the money on other things.

Ray White, Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys, and vice president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "There are always going to be fluctuations in the level of manpower ... some forces have to catch up a long way in terms of technology and it may well be that some chief constables are giving priority to this in the short term."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Recruitment is a matter for chief constables. Extra money is being made available for more officers, but it is up to police chiefs what they do with it."

ENGLAND AND

WALES

AVON & SOMERSET

31 March 1995 - 3,000

31 March 1996 - 3,087

Total +87

BEDFORDSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 1,126

31 March 1996 - 1,130.

Total:+6

CAMBRIDGESHIRE

31 March 1995 - 1,262

31 March 1996 - 1,238

Total: -24

CHESHIRE

31 March 1995 - 1,932

31 March 1996 - 1,950

Total: +18

CLEVELAND

31 July 1995 - 1,439

31 July 1996 - 1,442

Total: +3.

CUMBRIA

31 March 1995 - 1,167

31 March 1996 - 1,116

Total: -51

DERBYSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 1,795 and

31 March 1996 - 1,763 and

Total: -32.

DEVON & CORNWALL

31 March 1995 - 2,877

31 March 1996 - 2,908

Total: +31.

DORSET

31 March 1995 -1,263

31 March 1996- 1,260

Total: -3.

DURHAM

31 July 1995 - 1,368

31 March 1996 - 1,407

Total: +39.

DYFED-POWYS

31 March 1995 - 977

31 March 1996 - 991

Total: +14

ESSEX

31 July 1995 - 2,969

31 July 1996 - 2,992

Total: +23

GLOUCESTERSHIRE

July 1995 - 1,115

July 1996 - 1,074

Total: -41

GREATER MANCHESTER

31 July 1995 - 7,069

31 July 1996 - 7,109

Total: +40

GWENT

31 March 1995 - 997

31 March 1996 - 1,047

Total: +50.

HAMPSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 3,252

31 March 1996 - 3,347

Total: +95

HERTFORDSHIRE

April 1995 - 1,699

April 1996 - 1,746

Total: +47

HUMBERSIDE

August 1995 - 2,053

August 1996 - 2,044

Total: +9.

KENT

31 March 1995 - 3,116

31 March 1996 - 3,132

Total: +32

LANCASHIRE

31 March 1995 - 3,212

31 March 1996- 3,171

Total: -41

LEICESTERSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 1,840

31 March 1996- 1,908

Total: +68

LINCOLNSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 1,199

31 March 1996 - 1,151

Total: -48.

LONDON, METROPOLITAN

31 March 1995 - 27,944.

31 March 1996 - 27,834

Total: -110.

LONDON, CITY OF

August 1995 - 899

August 1996 - 898

Total: -1

MERSEYSIDE

June 1995- 4,700.

August 1996- 4,408.

Total: -292.

NORFOLK

31 March 1995 - 1,446

31 March 1996 - 1,402

Total: -44

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE

July 1995 - 1,168

July 1996 - 1,203

Total: +35

NORTHUMBRIA

April 1995- 3,661

April 1996- 3,736

Total: +65

NORTH WALES

31 March 1995 - 1,366.

Jan 1996 - 1,369

Total: +3

NORTH YORKSHIRE

31 December 1994 - 1,313

31 March 1996 - 1,324

Total: +11

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 2,320

31 March 1996 - 2,319

Total: -1

SOUTH WALES

31 March 1995 - 3,014

31 March 1996 - 2,929

Total: -75.

SOUTH YORKSHIRE

31 March 1995 - 3,040.

31 March 1996 - 3,080

Total: + 40

STAFFORDSHIRE

31 July 1995 - 2219

31 July 1996 - 2128

Total: -91

SUFFOLK

April 1995 - 1190

April 1996 - 1130

Total: -60

SURREY

April 1995 - 1,853

12 August 1996 - 1,931

Total: +78

SUSSEX

31 August 1995 - 3,019

2 August 1996 - 3,082

Total: +63

THAMES VALLEY

August 1995 - 3,814

August 1996 - 3,737

Total: -77

WARWICKSHIRE

30 June 1995 - 998

30 June 1996 - 976

Total: -22.

WEST MERCIA

31 July 1995 - 2,009

August 1996 - 2,028

Total: +19

WEST MIDLANDS

31 March 1995 - 7,020

31 March 1996 - 7,175

+155

WEST YORKSHIRE

August 1995 - 5,094

August 1996 - 5,148

Total: +54.

WILTSHIRE

April 1995 - 1,167

April 1996 - 1,125

Total: -42

SCOTLAND

CENTRAL SCOTLAND

April 1995 - 654

April 1996 - 658

Total: +4

DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY

January 1995 - 380

March 1996 - 384

Total: +4

FIFE

31 December 1995 - 777

22 August 1996 - 828

Total: +51.

GRAMPIAN

31 July 1995 - 452

31 July 1996 - 455

Total: +3

LOTHIAN & BORDERS

January 1994 - 2,502

April 1996 - 2,476

Total: -26

NORTHERN

August 1995 - 654

August 1996 - 644

Total: -10.

STRATHCLYDE

August 1995 - 7,009

August 1996 - 7,122

Total: +113.

TAYSIDE

August 1995 - 1,083

August 1996 - 1,112

Total: +29

Comments