March 9, 2011 • 2:44 pm

The Association of Chief Police Officers “says that 12,000 front line police officers are going to be lost,” Ed Miliband, Prime Minister’s Questions, 9 March 2011.

“He is wrong. The Association of Chief Police Officers is not talking about front line officers”. David Cameron, Prime Minister’s Questions, 9 March 2011

With the issue of potential cuts to police officer numbers dominating this afternoon’s Commons clash between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, the two party leaders were again at loggerheads over their figures.

Ed Miliband insisted that an estimate from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) of the scale of job losses being faced by forces would see 12,000 officers lost from the front line..

Not so, insisted the PM, this figure was not front line officers. So what did the report say?

Because the estimates were leaked to The Guardian this makes it difficult to get at the figures.

What that report states is that of 28,000 police staff whose jobs are estimated to be at risk, 16,000 were civilian staff and 12,000 were police officers.

So 12,000 police officers potentially being lost. But is every police officer by definition a ‘front line officer’? This is where the issue is becomes less black and white.

The issue of what constitutes a front line officer has proved contentious, with the Home Affairs Select Committee only last month calling on the Government lay down a much clearer definition of the front line so as to enable forces to prioritise this area.

This week, Policing Minister Nick Herbert offered this definition from a written answer he gave in February: “includes neighbourhood policing, response policing and criminal investigation.”

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) are presently doing some more work on a set definition, but when we tried them for an explanation of this definition, an HMIC spokesperson explained this work would not be published until the end of the month.

So what bearing does this definition difficulty have on the ACPO estimate?

When Full Fact contacted ACPO we were told that the figure is not explicitly front line officers, as the estimate had not differentiated between front line and non front line officers.

This is because of the nature of the estimate is “a moving picture, given the imminent announcements about potential changes to police pay and pensions.”

In light of this it was explained to Full Fact the only distinction that ACPO would make for the estimated losses would be between officers and civilian.

Anything more finessed would require both a clear definition of front line to be nailed down, but also an examination of the job description of each officer who ACPO estimates will be lost.

It was suggested that people such as Custody Sergeants are officers but their functions would not necessarily be deemed front line.

Given the potential for ACPO’s estimate to be revised in light of changes of circumstances, such as say, Lord Hutton’s public sector pensions review, as well as variations between forces, estimating what types of officers could be lost at this stage seems problematic.

Conclusion

Full Fact has little option but to score this PMQs bout a draw. Who is right or wrong on the matter depends on whether one takes the view that all officers should be considered front line or not.

It is true as David Cameron pointed out that the ACPO estimates are not explicitly for front line officers – and on this point Ed Miliband could be accused of putting words in ACPO’s mouth.

However because no distinction is made, this does not mean that the 12,000 would not include front line officers. Given the problems over a definition of frontline, and the estimated nature of ACPO’s figures there is simply no way of knowing with any certainty at this stage.

Mr Miliband was, however, not the only one to suggest that the 12,000 officers were explicitly front line officers. The Telegraph, the Daily Mirror, The Independent and Channel 4 referred to the losses as front line.

This is not to say no front line jobs will be lost under spending plans. But the definition of front line will become crucial as these job losses move from being estimates to reality.

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