Bobbies on the beat: When more means fewer

Police patrol shopping street

The Home Secretary used her speech on policing this morning to boast about how her government was "making the police more visible and available to the public than ever before".

Theresa May noted that the proportion of officers in England and Wales working on the frontline is planned to increase from 68% in 2010 to 70% by March this year.

"I want to see that proportion continue to go up because it's what's effective in fighting crime and it's what the public want," she said.

One small snag. The figures the Home Secretary was using show that the actual number of police on the frontline is going down. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary reckons there will be 2,500 fewer frontline officers this March than two years ago.

The rise in the proportion is down to the fact that the 20% cuts imposed by the government have seen a fall in overall police numbers. Although the impact has been less on the frontline than the "back office", it is a fall nevertheless.

This is what the HMIC's report Adapting to Austerity actually said:

HMIC report

Or, to put it another way…


When the public says they want more bobbies on the beat I suspect they mean more, not a larger proportion of a smaller number.

Take part in the debate on Twitter, using the hashtag #whatarepolicefor.

Mark's series What Are The Police For starts on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 30 January at 20:00 GMT, or catch up with iPlayer

Mark Easton, Home editor Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I simply do not believe the government spin. They are reducing police numbers, at a time when more police, not fewer are needed.

    Austerity will mean more riots, hence we need more police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    A very fair point... on a separate note, making 20% cuts whilst only losing 2% of frontline officers is quite an achievement though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Ms May has form, being a member of the "nasty party" of the 90's. I'm surprised she didn't use that most irritating of phrases: "Less is More"; or the Macmillanesque "You've never had it so good".

    What's more worrying is that Mr Cameron's attack on the disabled brings forth frothing loonies over a 0.5% level of DLA fraud, whilst a 4.5% reduction in policing doesn't raise a murmur. Go figure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Don't believe the spin... Police numbers are reducing, police support staff numbers are reducing .. its all about saving money. Oh and privatising sections of the police service off.

    But hey all these people bashing the police and public sector are going to get what the deserve, lets just hope theres a England left when common sense finally comes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Hooray at last someone has the nerve to challenge the need of officers in dealing with the time wasting roles that the community would like them to deal with. Dog Poo, parking (not obstruction) and noisy parties etc are dealt with by local authorities or their agents.
    Let the police deal with their real role of keeping the peace and dealing with crime/criminals.


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