Boris Johnson’s pledge to increase police numbers by 20,000 still won’t be enough to undo austerity cuts, warn senior officers

Exclusive: 46,000 officers will have to be hired to fulfil promise in three years, figures suggest – but there would still be fewer than in 2010

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 18 August 2019 21:04 BST
Boris Johnson discusses harsher prison sentancing with police and prosecution chiefs

Boris Johnson’s pledge to recruit 20,000 new police officers will fail to undo the damage caused by years of Conservative budget cuts, senior officers have warned.

Analysis by The Independent suggests that more than 46,000 will have to be hired to meet the target and replace officers leaving the service over the next three years.

Doubts have been raised over when such ambitious targets can be reached, with more than half of forces failing to meet current recruitment targets.

Even if achieved, it would still fall short of the 21,000 officers lost since 2010 – and there are no plans to reverse the separate decline of 15,000 police staff, which has resulted in officers being dragged into back office and administrative duties.

The Home Office has admitted it does not know how much the scheme will cost or where the money will come from. Details “still being worked out” include how the new recruits will be spread across different ranks, and shared between the 43 regional forces in England and Wales, a spokesman said. It is also unclear how 20,000 more officers will be accommodated following the closure of 600 stations since 2010.

Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, told The Independent the uplift was “not the answer to all evils”.

“We really welcome it but the whole thing will take five or six years to fully implement,” he said. “The policy will get us back to 2010 officer levels but it doesn’t deal with the police staff that were lost.

“A lot of officers are being taken off the streets to do administration and organisational stuff.”

Official statistics show that more than 8,700 police officers left forces across England and Wales in 2018-19, 7 per cent of the service.

Departures at the same rate over the coming three years would mean that 26,200 posts will have to be filled before any true increase in officer numbers can start.

Ch Supt Griffiths believes Mr Johnson’s target can be achieved but warned that it would be “painful” to complete by 2022, because of the speed of recruitment and training required.

The Liberal Democrats said the increase would be “unachievable” unless the government gives officers a pay rise to retain staff and encourage new recruits. A National Police Chiefs’ Council report recently found more than half of forces missed recruitment targets in 2018-19, with many falling short by over 25 per cent.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson, said: “Police forces were already struggling to recruit enough officers before they were tasked with increasing numbers by 20,000. With police facing rising levels of violence and being asked to do more and more with less and less, it’s not surprising that recruiting and retaining high-calibre officers is a major challenge.”

Scene at junction in Berkshire where police officer was killed while attending a reported burglary

The falling number of police officers has been named as one potential driver of rising violence and plummeting detection rates for crime.

Police numbers came under fresh scrutiny after the death of police officer Andrew Harper while responding a reported burglary in Berkshire on Thursday. Police Federation chair John Apter told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that police were more vulnerable in many parts of our community, saying: “We can’t ignore the reality that there are almost 22,000 fewer police officers and many thousands fewer police staff than there were 10 years ago.”

His comments came after an officer was attacked with a machete in London, and another officer was run over in Birmingham.

Statistics show that assaults on police constables rose by 18 per cent to almost 31,000 in 2018-19, as officers call for greater protection and support.

It is unclear whether the government is considering enhanced fast-track or direct entry schemes to slot new recruits into the roles needing to be filled.

Senior ranks have endured some of the largest cuts by proportion and investigations have been hampered by a longstanding shortage of detectives.

“It’s not clear what the policy means – does it mean 20,000 pairs of boots walking on the streets?” Ch Supt Griffiths asked. “That’s not what policing wants or needs.”

He said the demands handled by police forces had changed dramatically since 2010, amid rising cybercrime, fraud, historical offences and digital investigations.

“As other agencies have pulled away through austerity, the police service has ended up carrying the baby,” the officer added. “I think we have become more of a social service rather than an enforcement organisation.”

Sir Thomas Winsor, HM chief inspector of constabulary, previously said the 20,000 uplift was “not the most efficient and effective way of spending £1.1bn a year on policing”.

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“You can’t recruit them all that quickly, they take 18 months to three years to train and not everyone who wants to be an officer can,” Sir Thomas told journalists at a briefing last month. “You’ve got to invest to be more efficient in the necessary technology and ways of doing things, and that will cost money too.”

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the uplift should provide the “visible presence the public so desperately wants”.

Talking to The Independent about police numbers, Mr Apter said 80 per cent of the 21,000 officers lost since 2010 had been on the front line, including in decimated neighbourhood teams.

“The government has to acknowledge that, as violent crime increases and with the ever-present threat of terrorism, the cuts to the service are coming home to roost and it is ultimately the public who are suffering as a result,” he added.

Mr Johnson made the pledge in his first speech as prime minister, vowing outside 10 Downing Street that he would “make your streets safer”.

In a slew of announcements, the government has also enhanced blanket stop and search powers, vowed to create 10,000 more prison places in new jails, started a review that could lengthen sentences and increased Crown Prosecution Service funding.

The Home Office said the new National Policing Board would organise how the 20,000 target is met and confirmed that the figure would take departing officers into account.

A spokesperson added: “This government is taking urgent action to protect the public by recruiting 20,000 new police officers and we are working with our policing partners to make this happen.

“We are determined to give the police the powers and resources they need to keep us safe.”

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