“In 2019 we promised to recruit 20,000 additional police officers in England and Wales to make our streets safer and protect communities. Today, I’m pleased to say we have delivered that promise.”
“By meeting this remit there are now around 150,000 police officers in England and Wales. That is more than ever before in the history of policing.”
The government has today announced that it has reached its target of recruiting 20,000 more police officers by March 2023, and that the current number of police officers in England and Wales is the highest since comparable records began.
Figures published by the Home Office show that, as of 31 March 2023, there are a total of 149,572 police officers in the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales— a 21,139 increase on the government’s baseline figure of 128,433, and around 3,500 more than the headcount in March 2010. (The figures published today refer to the headcount of police officers, rather than the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) officers.)
The government says of these 21,139 officers, 20,951 were recruited using funding from the Police Uplift Programme.
While these figures are correct, they don’t tell the full story about what’s happening with police officer recruitment.
Selective use of official information without appropriate context can damage public trust in both official information and politicians. MPs should use official information transparently and with all relevant context and caveats.
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The recent rise in the number of police officers follows a sharp decline
The recruitment of more than 20,000 additional officers since 2019 comes after a substantial decline in police numbers between 2010 and 2018.
Police officer numbers can be counted in different ways, and the numbers published today by the Home Office refer to the headcount number of police officers, rather than the number of full-time equivalent officers.
Previously published Home Office data shows that between March 2010 and March 2018, the headcount number of police officers fell from 146,030 to a low of 125,094—a decrease of almost 21,000—before beginning to increase in 2019.
Figures for the number of full-time equivalent police officers show that numbers fell from 143,734 in March 2010 to a low of 121,929 in September 2017— a decrease of almost 22,000.
So while the government has fulfilled its 2019 manifesto commitment and the number of police officers is indeed now higher than when the Conservative-led coalition took office in 2010, the recent increase through the Police Uplift Programme is broadly equivalent to the number of officers that were lost between 2010 and 2017.
Population growth is higher than police officer growth
The government’s claim that there are now a record number of police officers in England and Wales is correct, if you look at total headcount.
However, today’s figures don’t reflect the fact that the increase in the number of officers has not kept up with population growth since 2010.
In 2010 the population in England and Wales was around 55.7 million. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2023 the population of England and Wales is projected to be around 60.4 million—up around 8.5%—whereas the number of police officers has increased by only around 2.4%.
We’ve not seen any official estimates of how the number of police officers per capita has changed. But a rough calculation using the mid-year population estimates above suggests the (headcount) number of police officers has decreased from around 1 officer per 381 people in March 2010 to 1 officer per 404 people in March 2023.
New officers have not been distributed evenly
Not all areas of the country have benefited equally from the recent uplift in police officer numbers. As part of the Uplift Programme, each force was given a recruitment target and many have successfully met or exceeded their goals, but 16 of the 43 have ended up with fewer officers than they had in 2010, prior to the Conservative-led coalition taking power.
For example, Cleveland Police was given a target of 239 additional officers but managed to recruit 267, giving it a total of 1,493. However, the force had 1,742 officers in 2010, according to Home Office statistics.
Northumbria Police also exceeded its uplift target but its current workforce of 3,839 is smaller than its 2010 total of 4,231. Merseyside Police has 300 fewer officers than in 2010 which Margaret Greenwood MP said has “serious implications for the safety of our communities and police morale”.
PCSO numbers have fallen
While the latest figures focus on the number of warranted police officers in England and Wales, they do not include the number of Police and Community Support Officers (PCSOs) employed by forces. Although they do not have the full range of police powers, PCSOs perform a role in tackling low-level crime and anti-social behaviour and patrolling communities.
As of 31 March 2010, there were the full-time equivalent of 16,918 PCSOs in England and Wales. The most recent figures, which date from September 2022, show this number has fallen to 8,263.
There has also been a decline in the number of special constables—volunteers who work alongside regular police officers—with figures falling from around 20,000 in March 2011 to 8,545 in March 2022.
This means that despite the number of police officers having risen since 2010, the combined total number of police officers, PCSOs and special constables available to forces has declined.
Image courtesy of Ethan Wilkinson