Police manpower at record high after successful recruitment drive

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The Government has exceededits police recruitment target six months early, David Blunkett will announce today.

The Home Secretary will tell the Labour conference that the number of police officers in England and Wales has reached a record high of 136,386 which represents an increase of 9,228 since 1997.

He had set a target of boosting police numbers to 132,500 by next March. The wider police complement, including civilian staff, community support staff and traffic wardens, now stands at 201,092.

Despite the increase in numbers, Mr Blunkett still faces problems with staff retention and an impending retirement "bulge" of officers now in their 50s. And there is disappointment that despite a concerted effort to attract ethnic minority recruits, representation of officers from black and Asian backgrounds remains less than 3 per cent.

Mr Blunkett will pledge that the extra officers will spend as much time as possible on the on patrol. He said: "With more officers and staff than ever before and following ... substantial growth in police funding, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure that more officer time is spent on front-line policing.

"It is vital that we make the best use of the record number of police officers by continuing to take them out of the station and increase visibility, availability and accessibility.'

He claimed that a Government drive on bureaucracy was "already freeing up officer time". When Labour came to power six years ago, police numbers in England and Wales stood at 127,158.

It fell sharply over the next three years, with chief constables facing accusations that they were diverting extra money into computer projects.

But the trend has been reversed since the Crime Funding Fund, which ring-fences money for recruiting officers, was established in 1999. The Conservatives have pledged to increase levels by 40,000 over the next eight years. They argue that they could finance the £1.3bn cost by reforms to the asylum system.

Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, welcomed the figures but warned that the Home Office faced continuing difficulties in retaining trained officers.

She also called for the introduction of a long-delayed computer system to co-ordinate the work of police forces around the country. Mr Blunkett will also announce that £46.5m of criminals' cash will be invested in agencies tracking their movements.

Asset recovery teams will be set up in London, the North-east, the North-west and Wales. A new joint Customs-National Crime Squad team will be established to break up money laundering operations.

Another £21m is to be ploughed back into communities affected by crime and antisocial behaviour. It will fund anti-gun crime initiatives and grassroots crime reduction schemes.

"Stripping criminals of their assets will be the norm, not the exception," Mr Blunkett said.

"Criminals are motivated by money. Seizing the proceeds of crime takes away the motive and removes the dirty capital that would have been used to fund their criminal enterprises." He said police and customs had already confiscated £36m of "suspect cash" and the new Asset Recovery Agency was beginning to make a "real impact".