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Police cuts: Loss of 7,000 neighbourhood officers in three years 'putting public at risk', Labour warns

Former Scotland Yard commissioner warns of reaching 'dangerous tipping point where there is no control'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 26 August 2018 13:48 BST
One third of street officers has been reassigned to other duties or left jobs altogether since March 2015
One third of street officers has been reassigned to other duties or left jobs altogether since March 2015

The public has been put at risk by the loss of a staggering 7,000 neighbourhood police officers in just three years, Labour has warned.

The Opposition seized on a fresh analysis showing that one third of street officers has been reassigned to other duties or left jobs altogether since March 2015.

The number of community support officers (PCSOs) has also fallen by 18 per cent over the same time period to just over 10,000, The Sunday Times found.

And officers assigned to back office and administrative roles have increased by a quarter – undermining government pledges to protect “frontline” policing.

“We cannot have security on the cheap, and Tory cuts are making our communities less safe,” said Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary.

“Cutting over 7,000 neighbourhood police officers means that vital intelligence is missed and relations between the police and the communities they serve become more removed.

“Over 21,000 police officers have been lost since 2010 and cuts on this scale are obviously going to have a huge impact on policing and public safety.”

The analysis comes amid rising concern about soaring violent crime in England and Wales, which has almost doubled from 778,000 offences in 2015 to almost 1.4 million in the year to March 2018.

The number of violent death in London has reached 100 this year already – in the shortest time period for a decade – after a rash of stabbings, shootings and domestic attacks.

Earlier this year, Theresa May was rapped by the government’s official statistics watchdog for claiming she was increasing police funding by £450m.

Overall, there has been a 20,000-person drop in police numbers since 2010, with cuts falling disproportionately on neighbourhood officers, the analysis found.

The number of neighbourhood police officers fell by a third, from 23,928 in March 2015 to 16,557 in March 2018.

Lord Stevens, the former Scotland Yard commissioner, said the findings were “incredibly alarming” because public confidence in the police is linked to “officers on the street in uniform”.

“If the increase in violent crime carries on escalating you are going to get a very dangerous tipping point where there is no control, and it is a very difficult thing to bring back. I don't think we've reached that point yet and God willing, we won't,” he told the paper.

The research revealed the number in “visible frontline” roles has fallen by more than 10 per cent in three years to 62,977, just over half of the 122,000 police officers in England and Wales.

The government insists 92 per cent of officers are “frontline” but they include more than 40,000 officers in roles such as office-bound intelligence analysts, custody officers and operational support officers, The Sunday Times found.

The Home Office said: “Decisions about frontline policing, and how resources are best deployed, are for chief constables and democratically accountable police and crime commissioners”.

Ms Abbott repeated Labour’s pledge to restore 10,000 police officers to work on community beats – “equivalent to at least one more bobby in every neighbourhood”.

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