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Comment: why we need a recount on national officer numbers

By changing the way police officer numbers are counted the Home Office has conjured up 4,000 extra officers who aren’t actually there.

Last week the Home Office were actively celebrating the message that there are now 131,595 police officers in England and Wales.

This figure has been happily lapped up by the newspapers in stories about the police officer uplift. It hasn’t to my knowledge been challenged by anyone in policing and to be fair some in policing have been using it.

“The public can be/feel safer as there are now this many cops etc ....”

Except, surprise, surprise it’s not true.

I’ve been following police cuts closely for the past decade and in September last year there were 124,784 police officers in England and Wales so I didn’t believe this figure had jumped 7,000 in seven months.

It turns out that when they started counting a “baseline” for the police officer uplift in November 2019 they used a figure of 128,000+ police officers in England and Wales.

So in just over a month, the service had found 4,000 extra police officers from the back of a cupboard or somewhere like that.

The Home Office overnight started changing the way police officer numbers are counted – or importantly how those numbers are put out publicly. Conveniently inflating the number of cops in the country.

In my personal view hoping no one would notice….

Think I am being harsh? Well, the Home Office press release sent out on Thursday says brazenly: “There are now a total of 131,596 officers...” without any caveats or explanation that they are using a different way of counting officer numbers and inflating the total.

For the past couple of decades, police officer numbers have been counted via full time equivalent (FTE) officers. Not headcount (where they get the 128,000+) figure from, which includes part time officers for instance.

Using FTE gives the actual number of police officers that can be out there and always using it means we can compare like with like.

We can’t judge the success or otherwise of a promise or a policy if they are using dodgy and frankly massaged figures. The public shouldn’t artificially feel safer because there are many more officers being recruited when there are not.

Equally importantly, police officers shouldn’t feel safer or more supported because they have many more colleagues out there to back them up - when they haven’t.

And policing - and the media which tells the story to the public - shouldn’t allow itself to be taken in by the Government spin.

It’s good that the Government are once again investing in policing and saying nice things about the job officers do. But let’s hold them to account on their promises and not let them con us with smoke and mirrors.

Royston Martis is a police media and communications advisor

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