Police officer numbers drop by nearly 20,000 since 2009

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Police officers in high-viz jackets

The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by nearly 20,000 since its peak level in 2009, Home Office figures show.

There were 124,066 officers in the year ending March 2016 compared with 143,769 seven years ago - a fall of 14%.

Both front line and local police numbers have fallen while officers on long-term sick leave have increased.

The Police Federation for England and Wales said the figures were "deeply worrying and disappointing".

Police budgets have faced significant cuts since 2010 - an overall 18% reduction in real terms. Meanwhile crime has continued to fall with a 6% drop in offences compared with last year.

The Home Office said the figures showed police forces had demonstrated that, with reform, it was possible to deliver more for less.

Other figures from the report show:

  • The reduction in officer numbers has slowed from previous years with 3,126 being shed over the past 12 months
  • There were nearly 4,500 fewer officers involved in front-line policing; however, the proportion of officers in front-line roles remained the same at about 93%
  • Meanwhile nearly 2,500 officers - about 2% of the total workforce - were classified as being on long term sick leave, an 11.5% increase on 2015
  • Officers from a Black or Minority Ethnic background make up nearly 6% of all officers - the highest proportion in the past 10 years

The cuts, which began under the coalition government, have led some forces to share services while many have also reduced costs by closing police stations, reducing procurement costs and reorganising the workforce.

'Rising demand'

The latest Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which asks people about crime they have experienced and includes offences not reported to police, showed that despite the falling number of officers there was a 6% fall in the number of incidents for the year ending March 2016.

However, it did not include new figures showing almost six million fraud and cyber crimes were committed in the same period.

Crimes recorded by police forces also showed an annual rise of 8%. However, the ONS said this was not considered a reliable indicator of trends in crime; most of the latest rise is thought to be due to improved crime recording practices.

Police Federation chairman Steve White, which represents rank and file officers, said: "Whichever way you look at it, the figures are deeply worrying and disappointing.

"The continued increase in police recorded crime, and inclusion of cyber-crime and fraud figures, clearly shows on-going and rising demand on the police service. This, at a time when officer numbers continue falling.

"The increased demand is taking its toll. The figures highlight increased levels of sickness across officers in England and Wales, illustrating the intense pressures they face. This cannot be allowed to continue.

"At a time when safety and security of the public is at the top of the political agenda, it is time to refocus priorities and invest further in the police."