One of Britain’s largest police forces has been forced to raid its reserves to recruit extra officers, claiming cuts in government funding have left it struggling to cope with increasing crime levels.
Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, who is to use the cash to hire an extra 450 officers, warned the force faced a “tipping-point” in its policing.
It has lost 1,300 officers in the last three years through the combined effects of redundancy and a recruitment freeze. It now has 7,440 officers and about 3,800 other staff, including Police Community Support Officers.
The West Midlands reported increased levels of crime last year, including a nine per cent rise in violent offences over the last year.
Under Mr Jones’s plans, a total of £60m would be taken from the force’s reserves over the next two years to bolster its annual budget of £550m.
It would go towards the recruitment of 250 officers next year and another 200 in 2015-16, as well as 100 civilian staff whose arrival would free up uniformed officers to patrol the streets.
Mr Jones is also recommending a rise in council tax of just over £3 a year to help tackle the manpower crisis.
Police numbers in England and Wales have dropped by 12,000 over the last three years to just below 130,000, the lowest total since 2002 and the head-count is expected to continue falling as budgets are squeezed.
Mr Jones, a Labour councillor, said West Midlands Police had arrived at a crucial moment in its history.
He claimed his force, the biggest apart from the Metropolitan Police, was the hardest-hit in the country under the formula for allocating money from Home Office budgets.
He said: “I believe a ‘tipping-point’ between reduced policing resources, as a result of reductions in Government grant, and the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour is in danger of being reached and action needs to be taken to redress the balance.”
The force had not recruited any new police men and women for three years and as result had no officer on its payroll below the age of 24, he said.
Mr Jones, a Labour councillor, added: “The problem with reserves is that you can only use it once. But hopefully it gives us some breathing space to try and deal with some of these wider issues, ways to use technology to enable us to work smarter in the future and hopefully getting a decent deal from government.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “How Police and Crime Commissioners use their funds – and that includes their reserves – is a matter for them.”
Mr Jones’s plans will go out to consultation over the next two months. They will need to be approved by the West Midland police and crime panel which oversees the Commissioner’s actions.