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What difference will the Tories’ police recruitment drive make? | Politics News



It is a number you have probably heard already, and it’s a number you are bound to hear again before the election campaign is over: 20,000 more police officers.

That’s the centrepiece of the Conservatives’ election plans to beef up policing and tackle crime. But how much difference will it make?

The first thing to remember is that police numbers have been slashed dramatically in recent years.

There are various ways you could visualise this: through amount spent on policing, through Home Office budgets and, perhaps most straightforwardly, through simple headcount.

According to Home Office figures, the number of police officers dropped from just under 140,000 in 2010 to 117,000 in 2018.

UNSPECIFIED, WEST YORKSHIRE - SEPTEMBER 05: Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a speech to police officers during a visit on September 05, 2019 in West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. The government promised £750 million in yesterday's spending review to fund the first year of a plan to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers. (Photo by Danny Lawson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has pledged an extra 20,000 police officers

There were many cuts during the austerity period but the cuts inflicted on police were among the deepest – and that’s before you bear in mind cuts to police pay.

The Conservative pledge to increase numbers by 20,000 will get total numbers very close to where they were before those cuts.

So does that mean the impact of austerity has now been wiped out? Not altogether.

Because during that period the population has been growing too. That means each police officer needs to be shared out by more people.

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A far more comparable way of measuring the workforce is by dividing those police numbers by the population, in this case in England and Wales. And when you do that you get a very different story.

You find that at under 200 police officers per 100,000 people, England and Wales has the lowest police officer density in modern history. Indeed, it is a lower coverage than any other major European economy, according to data from Eurostat.

Increasing police numbers by 20,000 would certainly push the density a little higher but at 230 officers per 100,000 people, the coverage would still be considerably lower than it was for almost all of the 1980s and 1990s – and a long way below the pre-austerity number.

Indeed, on this measure Britain would still have one of the weakest police forces in Europe.

This is not the only question mark about that number.

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One could ask whether the government will really be able to fill all those roles in such a short timeframe.

It takes time to recruit and train police officers. One could ask whether the pledge will end up being far more expensive than the current budget.

One could also ask whether dramatically slashing then dramatically increasing staff numbers is really a rational way of running a service so crucial to Britain’s security.

Still, the next time you see that 20,000 number it’s worth remembering that while it is certainly a big boost, in practical terms – in other words measured by police officer density – it does not even reverse many of the cuts made during the austerity period.

Campaign Check scrutinises election claims made by political parties, examining if they are true or false, and the context. Sky News is working with Full Fact – the leading independent fact-checking charity.

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