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MPS considering recruitment freeze 'relatively soon' to drop officer numbers to below 27,000

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‘Officer numbers are going to have to come down'.


The capital's deputy mayor for policing has warned the Metropolitan Police has almost no other option but to cut officer numbers to the lowest level since 2002.

Yesterday Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, told the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee further savings will almost certainly impact frontline officers.

She said if rumours the Mayor will be allowed to double the council tax precept this year are true and the force is given a slightly increased central government grant it will “not be enough to fill that gap”.

“If we are going to have meet that gap 70 per cent of police budget is on police staff and pay. Officer numbers are going to have to come down.

“If it were all to come from officer numbers we would reach 26,800. That is a clear trajectory. If we have to find that saving largely, if not all of that will have to come from police officer numbers.”

Changes to police pensions, estimated to cost police forces hundreds of millions of pounds in the coming years, “came suddenly out of the clear blue sky” she said and “frankly have been shockingly handled by the government”.

When asked whether cutting officer numbers is the “only game in town” she responded: “Given a huge proportion of the police budget is on pay, if we’re going to have to meet that gap and if there is no extra money in the police grant settlement, if that comes from police officer numbers -which it is very likely to - we will fall to 26,800.

“And that is incredibly worrying. The Met is already stretched.”

Although she never expected the police funding settlement to be delivered last week, she said, given that the government is “in paralysis”, the delays have created further uncertainty for the force.

MPS Assistant Commissioner Sir Stephen House told the committee the MPS would have to think about “turning off the recruitment tap relatively soon” if it decides to cut officer numbers to 26,800.

“The first thing I’d say to get to that number - the only way we can reduce police officers is by stopping recruiting and therefore not replacing people who leave the organisation,” he said.

“Any new rumours about government treatment on pensions means lots more people will seek to leave as soon as that rumour starts floating around but in general to stand still we need about 1,400 officers recruited each year.

“So that’s the only amount we can reduce by. We would have to take a decision pretty early on to stop recruiting.”

He pointed out reversals in government policy creates HR nightmares for police forces with “jagged peaks of recruiting up and down.”

“Of course the problem with that is if we say in about a years’ time we might have to make a decision to stop recruiting then all of a sudden we get a fresh injection of money for some reason and the numbers go back up again.

“And we’re in this time lag of 'we’ve slowed down' and all of a sudden we have to accelerate again.

“It’s actually quite destabilising for the organisation.”

Sir Stephen said a drop to 26,800 officers would force a “radical change in policing”.

“Those numbers would be felt most in the frontline on the streets because that’s where our probationers go to.

“Our longer serving officers have often gone to specialist roles. Reducing those is very difficult because they’re smaller in number.

“Taking x number from a specialist unit, it could almost destroy the unit.

“It [drop to 26,800 officers] would also impact our ability to respond to calls and it would certainly impact proactivity.

“The violent crime taskforce which has been a huge positive example of what proactivity can do. It would be the first to go. We would see a seesaw effect on violence.

“So to go to that number policing would look different in London, yes.”

Until 2010, officer numbers were broadly holding at around the 30,000 mark or just above.

In that year it had 33,367 officers for a population of 8,054,000, meaning it had 4.1 police officers per thousand people.

Now it has 29,654 officers for a population of nine million, or 3.3 officers per thousand people, and the number of officers is forecast to fall, despite London’s population growing since the start of this century – and forecast to hit 10 million by 2030.

Historically, London has had more officers per hundred thousand population than other big urban forces because the capital is seen as having more complex needs. 

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