Police Numbers and Recruitment

Police Numbers and Recruitment

Police Numbers

Police numbers continued to rise steadily over the last decade. In 2000 the total police officer strength was just over 124,000. Between 2001 and 2002 officer numbers reached record levels with a 3.1 per cent increase - the largest increase for 26 years. The 140,000 mark was reached in 2004. There were slight decreases and fluctuations in 2006/7, before the numbers picked up again in the latter half of 2008 and by September 2009 there were reported to be 144,833 police officers - an increase of 1.5 per cent on the previous year. However, due to budget cuts imposed by the Coalition government to tackle the deficit, police numbers have seen a reduction in recent times.  There were 139,110 full-time equivalent (FTE) police officers in the 43 police forces of England and Wales as at 31 March 2011.

In addition the 43 police forces employ just under 16,000 police community support officers. Introduced in 2002 under the Police Reform Act, the number of PCSOs increased rapidly, from 6,214 in 2005 to a reported 16,814 by September 2009. March 2007 saw a 99 per cent increase on the previous year and a further 14.2 per cent rise in September 2007. This was said to reflect the commitment by forces to establish dedicated neighbourhood policing teams in each area by March 2008.The total number of PCSOs was 15,820 as at 31 March 2011, a decrease of 6.5 per cent on the previous year.

Police community support officers are paid officers, but they do not have the same powers as regular officers. Their role is to support the work of their local police force and "provide a visible and reassuring presence on the streets."

Special constables on the other hand are part-time volunteer (unpaid) officers who do have all the same powers as regular police officers. By September 2009, there were reported to be 14,516 specials employed in the 43 forces of England and Wales. There were 18,421 special constables as at 31 March 2011, 18.8 per cent more than the previous year.

Police Recruitment

Police officers are recruited from all sections of society, but applicants must be either a British citizen, a citizen of the EU or other states in the EEA, or a Commonwealth citizen or foreign national with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

The minimum age for applicants is 18 and there is no upper age limit, although police constables and sergeants normally retire at 60. Also all new recruits, regardless of age, must undertake a two-year probationary period. There are no minimum or maximum height requirements, but applicants must be both physically and mentally able to undertake police duties and although there are no formal educational requirements, written tests are set.

The starting salary for a police officer is around £23,000 per annum. Additional benefits include a pension plan, paid overtime, fully paid sick leave and a minimum of 23 days annual leave.

The same criteria apply to police community support officers. The starting salary for a PCSO is around £16,000 per annum and benefits include paid overtime, fully paid sick leave and a minimum of 21 days annual leave.

Special constables also have to meet the same basic eligibility requirements as the regular police force. As they are volunteers they are not paid, but a uniform is provided and expenses reimbursed.

Ethnic minority recruitment.

In 1999 there was a drive to increase the number of police officers recruited from ethnic minorities. This followed the racist murder of a black London teenager, Stephen Lawrence, in April 1993 and a subsequent inquiry by Sir William Macpherson into his death. The Macpherson report published in February 1999 concluded that the police handling of the murder investigation had been marred by "institutional racism" and called, amongst other things, for targets to be set to increase the recruitment and retention of ethnic minority officers.

A decade later numbers had increased with minority ethnic officers accounting for around 4.4 per cent of the total police force. However, this was still far short of the 7 per cent target figure set by the Home Office to reflect the proportion of ethnic minorities in the population as a whole. In February 2009 it was decided to drop this "unrealistic" central target and replace it with individual targets for each police force to reflect the ethnic make-up of their local communities.


Former prime minister, Gordon Brown, in a speech in March 2010, insisted that despite the recession and a commitment to halve the deficit by 2014, frontline policing would be protected. "Reducing fear of crime begins with - and is founded upon - a strong police presence on our streets...our commitment to protecting the record numbers of police officers and PCSOs is clear," Mr Brown said.

However, many remained sceptical that police numbers could be maintained. Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, warned: "It is important chief officers and police authorities implement and utilise this investment wisely to ensure the public gets what it expects; more police officers on the streets...Our concern is that with 32 forces already reporting a recruitment freeze, combined with the natural loss of officers leaving and retiring, it seems more likely we will see a dip in officer numbers."

The Home Affairs Committee suggested that whilst there was "a general commitment" to protect frontline services across the police force, there was also "a limit" to the extent to which this would be possible. "We see no reason to dispute the Association of Police Authorities' assertion that forces may be able to manage up to a 5% spending cut without affecting uniformed officer budgets, but would struggle to protect these budgets beyond this," the Committee stated.

The Coalition government elected in May 2010 inherited from the previous Labour administration a huge budget deficit, variously described as "a record peacetime deficit" and "the largest budget deficit of any economy in Europe with the single exception of Ireland." Consequently, the new Government immediately embarked on a deficit reduction plan which included cutting the budgets of all government departments.

The Home Office was no exception and central government police funding was set to reduce by 20% in real terms by 2014/15, leading to widespread concerns about the effect this would have on officer numbers and frontline policing. But the Government argued the savings could be made by "driving out wasteful spending, reducing back office costs and cutting out time wasting bureaucracy", which they claimed would make policing "more effective".

In May 2011, Home Secretary Theresa May outlined a number of measures which the Government believed would save an estimated 2.5 million police hours a year – the equivalent of more than 1200 police officer posts. The measures included restructuring the police performance development review process (PDR), adopting a "more sophisticated approach" to risk management  and a simplified crime recording process. Ms May described the reforms as "a watershed moment in policing, showing that we really mean business in busting bureaucracy and allowing police to police and not fill in forms."

In July 2011, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a report entitled 'Adapting to Austerity' which assessed the preparedness of the police force and authority for the 2011/12 to 2014/15 CSR period. The report estimated that from March 2010-March 2015 the police workforce in England and Wales would reduce by 16,200 police officers, 1800 PCSOs and 16,100 police staff – a total of 34,100.

HMIC predicted that maintaining the planned level of protection to frontline/operational numbers of the workforce over the whole CSR period would be "very challenging" – especially within the first two CSR years (2011/12 and 2012/13) as two-thirds of central Government funding cuts would fall within that period.

The predicted loss of more than 34,000 jobs provoked an outcry. Unite union's national officer, Peter Allenson, said: "It's blindingly obvious that you cannot lose this number of jobs and maintain crime reduction levels……… In reality, even more police will be lost than this report suggests as many will be doing the work of police staff which is crucial to protecting the public."

The Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales was equally concerned. PSAEW vice president, Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis, said: "Whilst it is anticipated that many of these posts will not be from roles that HMIC has determined to be frontline, it is impossible to reduce the workforce to this extent without impacting on service delivery."

According to CS Curtis, there have already been"significant reductions" in superintending ranks – the senior operational ranks in policing. "In some forces…. it is becoming virtually impossible for our members to provide adequate operational cover without breaking the law in terms of Working Time Regulations," she said. "Spans of command are ever increasing. With this comes both greater operational risk and personal risk to individuals."

But despite the concerns, CS Curtis remained optimistic. "The public should be reassured that policing is not in crisis," she said. "In four years time we will still have a skilled, committed, loyal and flexible workforce with in excess of 127,000 police officers providing an effective policing service across England and Wales, ably supported by more than 15,000 PCSOs and 67,000 police staff."

Following on from the  2011 'Adapting to Austerity' report, HMIC published a further report - 'Policing in Austerity; one year on' - in July 2012. The key findings of the report were: - forces were balancing their books by cutting the workforce and reducing spending on goods and services; the front line was being protected, although not preserved; the nature of the front line was changing; service to the public had been largely maintained; but there remained some concerns around sustainability.

HMIC warned that the 33% reduction in the non-front line by 2015 could only be replaced by forces transforming their efficiency if they were to avoid essential back office functions simply being transferred to front line staff. HMIC said the 6% reduction in frontline capacity by 2015 could be replaced by making tactical savings, but added: "If  forces are to prepare effectively for further cuts in a future spending round, they need to start now preparing to transform the efficiency of their front line."


Forces are on track to balance their budgets: they planned to reduce their spending by £749m by April 2012, largely through a reduction in the workforce of 17,600 (over half of the total workforce reductions they plan to make by March 2015).

Crime is continuing to fall – down by 3% (between 2010 and 2011). Victim satisfaction is also up from 83.4% to 83.9%, and the police response to anti-social behaviour has  improved.

Although many forces have changed the way they deliver some policing locally (for instance, there are now 2,300 more neighbourhood officers, and 5,200 fewer response officers, contributing to a 5,500 fall in the number of officers in roles that are visible and available to the public), a survey of members of the public indicated that the majority of respondents noticed no change in how often they saw the police.

Forces need to save £2.4bn by the end of the current spending review period (March 2015). HMIC found that forces have plans in place to save £2.1bn of this. £233m of the £302m outstanding gap is accounted for by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

Between March 2010 and March 2015, forces plan to cut the frontline total workforce (officers and staff) by 6% (8,100), and non-frontline functions by 33% (20,300) – although these percentages mask variation between forces, with one cutting by as much as 19%, and another planning a 9% increase.

As a result of these changes, the proportion of total workforce on the front line will increase from two-thirds in March 2010 to nearly three-quarters in March 2015.

Looking specifically at police officer numbers and proportions: forces plan to reduce the number of frontline officers by 6% (5,800) and non-front line officers by 42% (7,600). As a result, by 2015 between 81% and 95% of officers (depending on the force) will be in frontline roles.

HMIC has found that, while the operating model of British policing is unaltered, the nature of the frontline is changing. Forces are planning to varying degrees to restructure the front line in a number of ways, such as by merging response and neighbourhood teams; increasing spend on investigation and public protection functions; increasing use of Special Constables by 9,000; and implementing more efficient working practices.

There are plans for forces to close 264 (22%) front counters, but to open 137 police access points in shared locations such as libraries and supermarkets (an increase of 49%). HMIC’s survey of the public indicated that their initial reaction was to be against front counter closures but, after being given information about the hard choices faced by forces, they were more accepting of the action.

Source: HMIC report 'Policing in Austerity - one year on' - July 2012


“The need for forces to transform their efficiency remains. We are looking at what might be done to improve the performance of forces crime fighting capability and we are planning a joint project with the NAO to identify learning from a major procurement.”

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor - 2012

"These reductions in officer numbers are in line with HMIC predictions as a result of necessary savings by forces who are playing their part in reducing the deficit.

"However, HMIC projections also showed that 94 per cent of officers in the frontline will remain, the proportion on the frontline is increasing and service to the public is largely being maintained.

"We inherited a situation where there were some 25,000 officers not on the frontline, so there was plenty of scope for forces to make savings while improving performance, as forces are showing as they continue to drive down crime."

Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert's statement on police numbers - July 2012

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