Numbers of police in decline

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The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen in the past year by 321 despite Government pledges to increase the total, the Home Office revealed yesterday.

It was also disclosed that the number of Specials - part-time volunteer police officers - has declined by 204 in 1995, at a time when the Government had spent pounds 4m in an attempt to recruit a further 10,000.

Labour will seize on this information as useful ammunition in the run-up to the election in which law and order is one of the key issues. The Tories pledged an extra 1,000 full-time officers in their 1992 election manifesto and John Major promised in 1995 to provide 5,000 extra officers in the next three years.

But figures released yesterday in the Home Office's Annual Report 1997, which gives their spending plans for up to the end of the century, show a drop of 321 in the past 12 months to 126,901.

The report said that in 1995-96 police strengths had expected to rise by 900 officers, but had only gone up by 544 constables. However, this was offset by a reduction in 865 higher-ranking officers as part of the cuts taking place in the management structure. The report predicts that extra money in the next three years "will enable chief constables to increase police numbers by 5,000".

In 1992, when the pledge of an extra 1,000 officers was made the total was 127,627 - more than 700 less than the current total. Police chiefs have continued to show a marked reluctance to spend extra resources on officers, choosing instead to use it on new developments, such as DNA testing, CS sprays, or for paying the spiralling costs of pension contributions.

The report points out that with the drop in higher ranking officers and civilianisation of many administrative jobs the number of constables has increased by nearly 2,000 since 1992.

In a separate development David Maclean, the Home Office minister, revealed that despite spending pounds 4m on a recruitment drive to attract another 10,000 Special constables to swell the existing 20,000, the total had dropped by 204. The Government is set to spend another pounds 5.3m in recruitment.

The Home Office yesterday argued that it was being successful in recruiting new volunteers, but existing Specials were dropping out at the same rate.

Alun Michael, Labour's Home Affairs spokesman, said: "This demonstrates yet again the fact that John Major and Michael Howard have broken their promise. Far from delivering the 1,000 extra officers promised in 1992 they are delivering a fall which totally undermines any promises to provide extra officers in the future."

Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents constables to chief inspector ranks, added: "While Specials are resigning almost as fast as they are being enlisted it is throwing money down the drain."