Mon 28 September 2020

The new police officers promised by the Conservatives over the next three years won’t be fully qualified and will only be increasing the number of officers to 2010 levels.

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Boris Johnson’s pledge for 20,000 new frontline police officers in three years helped seal victory for the Conservatives in the General Election, but can they deliver on the claim and what state will it leave the police forces of England and Wales in?

On paper, the mass introduction of fresh recruits can only be a good thing. However, with further scrutiny, it seems that the addition is only papering over the cracks that appeared prominently in the years of austerity.

When David Cameron came to power in 2010, the police force was a robust public service. In March 2009, there were 143,769 police officers. This was seen as a waste of public money, which meant that the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, agreed to Treasury demands and sanctioned the cutting of police budgets by 18%. As a result, over the next 10 years, cuts after cuts were made. By March 2019, there were 123,171 officers – a 14% reduction. 

Boris Johnson’s vow for 20,000 more police officers would only be replacing the numbers that have been slashed as a result of the cuts.

Since 2010, the population is estimated to have increased by around 3.5 million in England and Wales, meaning that there would still be fewer police officers per head. Not only were there less police officers on our streets because of the cuts, the work force as a whole was hit significantly. In March 2010, the overall workforce was at 245,000, including police staff, community support officers and special constables. Last year, the workforce had been reduced to 202,000. 

A new officer in the Metropolitan Police, who has seen his workload increase as a result of staffing cuts, told me: “Up until a year ago, you would go to the call and deal with it. If it required a crime report you would put that report on, but it then went to the case management team and they would take it off you and deal with any post investigation if it required it.

“Now, the initial investigating officer keeps the entire file up until the arrestee is charged. As a result, officers, especially new recruits, who are expected to put on the majority of reports, end up having sometimes up to 10 reports on as well as going to new calls and taking more reports. Where as a year ago you put on the report and that was that.” 

The Government intends to deliver 6,000 new frontline officers by March 2021 and the remaining 14,000 in the following two years. It has been made clear that the 20,000 new officers will be in addition to officers hired to fill existing vacancies from officers that have retired or left the force. 

This will be a tall order as 8,727 officers left the force last year. The Government would have to replace the officers that have left and then find an additional 6,000 officers. In total, roughly 14,000 police officers would have to join the force in the first year of the plan – a vast increase on the 9,427 officers who were recruited in the year ending March 2019, which was the most since 2008-2009. 

Each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales has been allocated a set amount of officers to recruit and officers are trained by the force they apply to. To become a police constable, there is a training programme of three months and three weeks before the start of on-the-job training. Following that, each prospective officer is on a two-year probation period and, until the end of it, the officer is not fully qualified. So even with the extra numbers Johnson intends to have on our streets, it will be years in the future until these officers are fully qualified. 

One part of the police officer training involves a fitness test consisting of a 15 metre shuttle run. The time the officer has to complete it increases with rank but, to be a police constable, the maximum time available to complete the run is approximately three-and-a-half minutes. It is stated in a police advisory report that the limit is set low so as to combat against differential standards that would discriminate between males and females. However, on the official test website, it states that the level the police sets is below average for men and women aged 21-40.

Whether or not Johnson’s frontline officers are delivered, they won’t be fully qualified and they will only be increasing the number of officers to 2010 levels. Backroom staff are unaccounted for in this push for safer streets.

The police workforce as a whole has been crippled by austerity and new officers will only unbalance the workforce. There needs to be investment across the force for it to function at its best.

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