Stop reducing police officer numbers now!
At the National Police Federation Conference in May the Federation produced figures showing how the additional investment in the police service made over the last 10 years has largely been in the form of police staff rather than officers.
Nationally, since 1999 there has been an average 16% increase in police officers. This compares with an average increase of 54% in police staff. Thousands of police staff have been introduced, not only to deal with additional legislative demands and bureaucracy, but also taking on roles that have been traditionally performed by police officers.
Some Forces have taken this change of staff mix to new levels. Surrey Police has been highlighted in this regard, as in 2007 they were the first police force to have more police staff than officers. They have since been followed by Northamptonshire and Wiltshire and others are catching up. In Surrey, since 2000, police officer numbers have decreased 260 from 2100 to 1840. Over the same period, police staff numbers have tripled from 760 to 2300.
These figures are quite astounding. We keep being told that police staff are being introduced as a cheaper alternative to expensive police officers. Like all Forces investment has been made in PCSO's. Surrey has about 240 PCSO's. If we take those away from the 1540 police staff increase that still leaves 1300 police staff replacing 260 police officers. There have been no savings here. Surrey could have increased by around 850 police officers instead of 1300 police staff.
Where are these 1300 additional police staff and what are they doing? I don't think anyone has the answer to that one. What I do know is that we have created whole departments and career paths for police staff. What benefits are they bringing to front line officers or are they simply putting more demands on officers to feed the self perpetuating bureaucratic machine that they belong to?
The Police Federation is advocating that there should be a broad review and evaluation of all these changes in workforce mix. There should be some standardisation of the roles that police staff and police officers perform. Why can one force ‘civilianise’ a role whereas another deems that it is only suitable for a police officer? What value are we getting from this huge increase in police staff? The public want more police officers on the streets.
Forces that have more police staff than officers have no resilience in their response and criminal investigation departments. At times of high demand within the Force or in order to provide mutual aid to other forces neither have the capacity or resilience to provide resources in the medium to long term. Even in the short term the gaps can only be covered by overtime, which the Government is demanding must be cut by 40% with no reduction in performance. Using proactive resources and/or neighbourhoods may be impossible as these officers are not being trained in the secondary skills to provide public order units, search teams etc.
Police officers generally join for a career in the Force. Their initial training is more expensive but that needs to be balanced against the costs of training police staff who have a much higher turnover and require some expensive bespoke training for their roles.
Crime has been falling in England and Wales since 1995, long before this huge increase in police staff. There are serious threats ahead for the police service. There are going to be budget cuts, potentially serious cuts; more unemployment, cuts in benefits and threats of civil unrest are likely over the next few years with rises in crime and disorder a reality combined with a reduction in staff/officers. A staff mix of more staff than officers may not be resilient enough to deal with these potential threats or indeed some other day to day threats and demands and the 2012 Olympics, whose estimated demand is 10 to 15,000 officers per day.
We need to review the current staff mix within those forces leading these changes to ensure that there is sufficient resilience to enable officers to be available for the demands we face. The so called value for money that police staff provide needs to be reassessed when it appears we are pouring money into new police staff posts and we have little idea what additional value they bring.
We need to ensure that we have the right number of sworn officers to enable us to be able to tackle the issues we may face supported by the right mix of police staff. We are at risk of becoming a police service run by police staff where the only contact police officers have with the public is dealing with confrontation.
Now is not the time
5 days ago