Have police numbers risen or fallen under Boris Johnson?

Published: 4th Apr 2012

Interviewer: "Mr Johnson is it not true that there are less police officers on the street now than when Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate left office?"

Boris Johnson: "No that is not true; that is completely untrue ... I'm told that we're now up at 32,273"

Boris Johnson, LBC Mayoral Debate, 3 April 2012

"I've got the figures the Met have given out for January and that shows that we're now down to 31,128 police; it peaked at 33,260"

Ken Livingstone, LBC Mayoral Debate, 3 April 2012

The issue of police numbers is no stranger to London politics. Back in August, Full Fact examined a dispute between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone over whether the number of police officers in the Metropolitan Police were rising or falling.

Now, at the LBC Mayoral Debate broadcast on Tuesday, the Labour and Conservative candidates for Mayor continue to dispute the figures.

Analysis

The number of full-time equivalent police officers fluctuates constantly, and figures were formerly published on a monthly basis. Those used to be obtainable via the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), however this body is now defunct (being replaced by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime - MOPC).

The MPA can however provide historical data in their annual accounts, which tell us the number of officers as at 31 March each year (the end of the financial year). These figures do not include Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) or Traffic Wardens.

The accounts tell us that, back on 31 March 2001, there were 25,430 officers in the Met. This rose to 31,398 by the end of the 2007/08 financial year. It peaked at 33,260 in 2009/10 before falling back to 32,370 in 2010/11.

Boris Johnson has been Mayor of London since 4 May 2008. The best available figure for what he 'inherited' is the figure as at 31 March 2008  - at the end of the 2007/08 financial year. We can thus estimate that Mr Johnson inherited a police force 31,398 strong.

The Metropolitan Police also forecast numbers into the future. The most recent estimates place the number at 32,320 on 31 March 2012, falling to 31,639 in 2013 and 31,460 in 2014.

If we nevertheless take the figure estimated as at 31 March 2012 - 32,320 - this puts police officer numbers at over 1,000 more than when Ken Livingstone left office.

Mr Livingstone, however, refers to 31,128 police officers as at 31 January 2012. This is correct according to a report by the MOPC to the London Assembly. By this figure, police officer numbers have declined by just under 300 since the Mayor was elected in 2008.

So which figure is more accurate? The 31 March figure is more up-to-date, but is still based on forecast figures. The Metropolitan Police have yet to publish the actual figure, and Full Fact have contacted the MOPC to confirm what their latest estimate is.

The bigger picture

To judge Boris Johnson's record on police numbers by the 31,398 that he inherited after the 2008 election doesn't necessarily give us the full picture.

As Full Fact pointed out in August, the last Budget that Ken Livingstone presided over as Mayor was published in February 2008, taking effect over the 2008/09 financial year. Consequently, the effect of Ken's policies on policing could have had an effect on officer numbers even after Boris had taken the City Hall premiership.

In addition, numbers after 2009/10 saw their steepest fall since the Metropolitan Police Authority was established, and are forecast to continue to decline up to 2013/14. This is partly explained in the Mayor's 2010/11 Budget which states:

"Over the three years to 2012-13, the number of Police Officers is forecast to decrease by 455, while PCSOs remain the same and Special Constables increase by 2,690. The Police Service faces major challenges in managing police officer numbers against future funding levels given the lengthy recruitment and borough based training process."

Conclusion

Evidence suggests the candidates need to be very careful when making their claims about police numbers. Ken Livingstone has been attacked for his 31,128 officer count. This figure is correct for 31 January 2012, and at time of writing remains the most up-to-date published figure.

In addition, police numbers under Boris Johnson rose in his first two years, but have been in decline year-on-year since. Putting aside monthly variations, this demonstrates that simply taking the number of officers in 2008 and comparing them to 2012 doesn't necessarily do justice to what has actually happened to numbers in the intervening period, especially when the current Mayor's first year in office could have been influenced by the previous Mayor's last budget.

The previous forecasts by the Metropolitan Police Authority put the officer count at over 32,000 now, although no confirmation of this has been published. Once we obtain the latest estimate, we can say for sure whether this forecast has indeed been reached.

UPDATE (5/04/2012)

The Metropolitan Police have now confirmed to Full Fact that, as at 31 March 2012, there were 32,159 police officers in the Met, again excluding PCSOs and Traffic Wardens. This figure confirms that there are 761 more police officers compared to the end of the 2007/08 financial year - our best proxy for what Boris Johnson 'inherited'.

This confirms that police officer numbers have risen under Boris Johnson, although they have been in decline since 2010 and are lower than at the end of Mr Johnson's first year in office.


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