Police chief warns over forces' cuts

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The Independent Online

Many police forces will be weakened by a funding squeeze at a time when crime could increase because of the recession, one of Britain's top policemen warned today.

Nineteen of the 43 forces in England and Wales slashed officer numbers in 2007-08, despite the national total rising by 0.6 per cent, and the pace of cuts has speeded up, The Times reported.

Gloucestershire Police Chief Constable Timothy Brain told the paper that the full effects of the economic downturn on crime could take a long time to be felt.

He said: "There is a risk of increased crime and disorder as a result of the effect of recession and many police forces will be made weaker as a result of the latest grant and council tax settlements."

Dr Brain, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on finance and resources, must himself cut 60 officers in the next year.

Referring to the recession of the early 1980s, he said: "Unemployment peaked in 1985 but there was no downturn in crime figures until the mid-1990s.

"In the meantime we experienced severe social shock and it was the police service that held the line."

Among other forces being forced to make cuts are Dorset (50 officers), Hampshire (100), Gwent (80), Surrey (144 officers and staff) and Humberside (replacing 300 officers with civilian staff over five years), The Times reported.

The news came a day after a senior police officer warned that activists were planning a "summer of rage" and could find rioters easier to recruit because of the credit crunch.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan Police's public order branch, said known activists were planning a return to the streets centred on April's G20 summit of world leaders in London.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the number of police officers in England and Wales stood at more than 140,000 - a record level - and Government funding had increased by more than 60 per cent since 1997-98.

She added: "There is no reason why police strengths should reduce given the funding for the police under the three-year grant settlement for the years 2008-09 to 2010-11 which we announced in December 2007."

The Home Office said Gloucestershire Police were receiving £59.3 million in general grants from the Government this year, an increase of 2.5 per cent on 2008-09.