In Depth

The truth about police cuts

The Week looks at the facts and figures amid warnings from police chiefs

1701525_police solider

Government cuts to policing have left forces without the means to respond to terrorist attacks, according to the Police Federation.

Police chiefs have long warned of a shortage of resources and officers, but the Home Office insists they have "all the tools they need" to deal with the heightened terror threat. So what are the facts? 

What do the police say?

Police welcomed Theresa May's decision to activate Operation Temperer to deploy hundreds of armed soldiers to assist officers at key locations after the terror threat level was raised to critical after the Manchester terror attack.

Steve White, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that the involvement of military personnel would help free up armed police officers and reassure the public.

"But, as welcome as this is, we cannot avoid the reasons it is needed at all," he said. "There is no ignoring the fact that we, the police, simply do not have the resources to manage an event like this on our own."

What do politicians say?

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who has been a vocal critic of Conservative cuts to policing, called for a broader discussion about police resourcing going forward, reports The Sun.

But Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted that UK police "have all the tools they need" to carry out their duties. "She added that while the armed forces would 'backfill' for the police, this was an established process and did not indicate a shortage of officers," the Financial Times reports.

Rudd did, however, promise to take "a look to see if there are any lessons to be learned".

Are there fewer bobbies on the beat?

According to Home Office statistics cited in the NewStatesman in 2015, 17,000 officers were cut between 2010 and 2015 as part of the coalition government's large-scale budget cuts.

Despite a promise by then Home Secretary May that "cuts can be taken without affecting frontline policing," 12,000 of those who lost their jobs were described as frontline police officers.

These were undeniably very significant cuts, but they need to be placed in longer-term perspective, says Tim Newburn, Professor of Criminology and Social Policy at the London School of Economics.  

"The very significant increases in both police budgets and numbers that took place under the previous Labour administrations mean that both officer and overall workforce numbers are now back roughly at the levels they were between 2001 and 2003," he wrote for the BBC in 2015.

However, since then, a further 3,000 police officers have lost their jobs, bringing the total to roughly 20,000.

The Sun reports that 1,337 trained firearms officers have been slashed in England and Wales between 2010 and last year. After the Manchester attack, May deployed 984 soldiers onto Britain's streets.

Who's right?

Despite assurances from the Home Office, it is clear that budget cuts have affected frontline policing. By sending in the military, May's government is perhaps admitting as much.

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