Police numbers fall sharply as cuts bite

Fresh evidence of the pressure on police budgets came yesterday with figures showing the number of officers dropped by more than 2,500 in 2010. In the first significant fall for six years, police strength in England and Wales went down to 142,363 officers.

Police grants are to be trimmed by up to 20 per cent over the next four years as the Home Office budget is squeezed by more than £2bn. Ministers have insisted savings can be achieved by improved efficiency and the police pay freeze, but experts have forecast numbers of officers could fall by 18,000 by 2015.

Nick Herbert, the Policing minister, said: "It's not surprising many forces have suspended recruitment after the economic downturn." He urged forces to make savings in back-office posts and prioritise frontline jobs.

The Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales said it was inevitable that frontline services would suffer and the Police Federation, which represents all officers, warned the fall was "just the start of a long slippery slope".