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Fall in number of police officers in England and Wales

The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen, months after the Government hailed a campaign to hire thousands of recruits.

The headcount of officers stood at 149,164 at the end of September 2023, down 402 from 149,566 at the end of March, Home Office figures show.

While this is still above the total of 144,346 a year earlier in September 2022, it means headcount is no longer at the highest level since current records began in 2003.

There has been a similar drop in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) officers in England and Wales, which stood at 147,098 at the end of September 2023, down from a record 147,430 in March, although higher than 142,146 the year before.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The fall in FTE officers brings to an end a long run of consecutive half-yearly increases that began in 2018.

FTE is the standard measure for comparing workforce figures, but the Home Office also records headcount numbers and used this as its preferred method for reporting progress on its recent campaign to hire 20,000 officers in England and Wales – a target that was met in March 2023.

The Home Office said the new workforce figures show the total number of officers is still above the headcount target and “maintains the additional 20,000 police officers recruited”.

The figures also show a drop of 343 in the FTE number of National Crime Agency (NCA) officers between March and September 2023.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “On a day of more Tory infighting, these are bombshell statistics that show the Conservatives cannot be trusted to keep our streets or our borders safe.

“Not content with cutting bobbies on the beat from our local communities, they are now cutting NCA officers too – the law enforcement body responsible for smashing the smuggling gangs operating in the Channel.”

If her party was voted into power, Ms Cooper vowed it would “restore order to the border, establish a new police unit to smash the smuggler gangs and put neighbourhood police back on our streets to keep our local communities safe.”

But a Home Office source hit back, accusing Labour of having “no plan to protect our people or our borders”.

“We’ve recruited more police officers and kept our streets safer than Labour ever managed, and our plan to stop the boats is working,” they added.

It is too early to know if the drop in officers in the latest figures is the start of a trend or a one-off decrease.

The number of full-time equivalent police officers in England and Wales rose during the first decade of the century, peaking at 144,353 at the end of September 2009.

The total then began to fall, dropping steadily during the 2010s until it hit a low of 121,929 at the end of September 2017.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson said in September 2019 the Government was committing to recruit 20,000 police officers in England and Wales – based on headcount – by the end of March 2023.

This target was set against a baseline of 128,433 officers, meaning the latest headcount figure of 149,164 still represents an increase on the baseline of more than 20,000.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are absolutely committed to keeping our borders and streets safe.

“The Government has delivered its commitment to recruit 20,000 additional police officers and this is being maintained, with over 3,000 more officers protecting communities than in 2010 – the previous peak before our unprecedented recruitment drive.

“Last year Channel crossings were down by more than a third and there was a significant increase in staff to our Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC) as part of our long-term recruitment plan to ensure the safety of our borders and communities.”