The promise of 20,000 additional officers
One of the first pledges made by Boris Johnson on becoming Prime Minister was to bolster Police numbers by providing 20,000 additional officers. In the following post, we look to put these numbers into context and understand what 20,000 new recruits will actually mean to front-line policing.
Historical Context: Backfilling previous reductions
Police Officer numbers have seen a sizeable drop over the course of the last decade. Resourcing levels have reduced from a peak of 143,769 in 2009, to 123,171 in March 2019.
This means that today there somewhere in the region of 20,600 fewer officers than there were a decade ago. Suggesting additional recruitment to replace those lost to austerity would only bring numbers back to 2010 levels.
What does it mean for each Force?
We’ve already seen many Chief Constables across the country, making the case for their fair share of recruits. As yet, we are yet to hear how these officers are to be apportioned. If the new Officers were to be allocated in line with current numbers, how many additional officers would each Force receive?
The Recruitment Challenge
Many Forces have struggled to fill Police Officer vacancies with suitable candidates. Combine this with the effect that recent proposals regarding the need for recruits to hold a degree prior to entering the service, then these factors may pose sizable limitations on the ability to recruit the promised volumes while maintaining standards.
Historically Police Officers have retired after hitting their 30 years service. Due to the demographics of the police officer population, this has meant some forces have already recently had to recruit in sizeable numbers. The visualisation below shows 5 Forces within England and Wales that had greater than 10% of Police Officers with less than 1-year experience back in March 2018.
Similarly, there are Forces that over the course of the next few years would expect a sizable proportion of their officers to be retiring. The graph below illustrates 6 Forces, all of which have more than 1 in 8 of their officers with greater than 25 years experience. Although this might be beneficial at the moment as the Force can rely on the experience of these officers. It does suggest a ticking time bomb in terms of retention and recruitment, as in 5 years time these Forces are likely to have lost a sizeable proportion of their officers.
In the context of increased establishments, a Force such as Nottinghamshire would potentially face the prospect of requiring 302 officers to backfill retiring officers. This is in addition to the 314 allocated under the government’s plans. This would constitute an increase of 616 new recruits, leaving the Force with almost one-quarter of Officers as newly recruited.
Complexity and Challenges
Initial concerns have been raised about available locker space and the need to equip these additional officers. However, these logistical matters may only be the starting point of the issues facing Police Forces. Newly trained officers typically learn the ropes in Response Policing. During their probationary period they require tutoring from other officers and would double crew vehicles. Flooding Response teams across the country with such volumes of probationers would put a massive strain on Response Policing. It would also necessitate an increase in Double Crewing rates, which may limit the potential benefit from having additional officers.
Even once the new recruits pass through their probation, the sheer volume of new recruits has the potential exacerbate many of the current problems that officers face around training and logistics. Not only do many Forces struggle to maintain sufficient fleet for Response teams but it is also not uncommon to have a waiting list for Response Driver courses of upwards of 1-year. This means that there can be a number of officers on Response teams unable to operate vehicles at response speeds having not undergone the necessary training. Thus limiting the Force’s ability to respond to incidents.
Policing numbers have reduced over the past decade and the increase proposed will be welcomed. It is, however, worth putting these changes into context that an additional 20,000 officers is not quite the windfall that it sounds like and instead returns Officer levels back to levels seen almost a decade ago. The need to recruit additional officers while backfilling vacancies is also worth considering and may present a serious challenge to many forces. There are a number of logistical, process and training challenges that such an increase in recruitment would have and may require considerable investment by Forces to make this a success. The increase in officer numbers will help over time to reduce pressure on the front-line. However, the recruitment process and implementation process come with extensive challenges.