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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Police numbers reach record high
Beat officers
The public want to see more police on the beat
The number of police officers in England and Wales is at its highest level ever, Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced.

There were more than 136,386 officers at the end of August, which is above the government target for next year.

The figures were central to Mr Blunkett's speech on Thursday at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.

He has also announced that 22.5m seized from criminals will be spent on community projects and fighting crime.

Other ministers to address the conference on its final day include the new Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Mr Blunkett said the total number of police staff - including civilian staff and traffic wardens - had reached 201,092.

The total included 1,601 Community Support Officers, or CSOs, the civilian wardens with quasi-police powers introduced by Mr Blunkett's controversial police reforms.

"Police numbers are at an all time high," said the home secretary.

"At the end of August 2003, there were 136,386 police officers in England and Wales, the highest number since records began in 1921, 9,000 more than in 1997 and way ahead of our 2004 target."

He added: "With more officers and staff than ever before and following very substantial growth in police funding, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure that more officer time is spent on front line policing.

The government is already freeing up officer time and bringing about a real difference to the everyday lives of officers on the front line
David Blunkett
Home Secretary

"It is vital that we make the best use of today's record number of police officers by continuing to take them out of the station and increase visibility, availability and accessibility.

"By cutting bureaucracy in the police service as part of the police reform programme, the government is already freeing up officer time and bringing about a real difference to the everyday lives of officers on the front line."

'Closed doors'

But criminologist Roger Graef said the argument about police numbers had been over-simplified.

Boosting police numbers helped cut "quality of life crimes", including vandalism, littering, dogs fouling the pavement and domestic violence - but numbers alone did little to tackle more serious and hidden crimes.

That requires intelligence and preventative efforts from local authorities and individuals, according to Mr Graef.

Police could help "keep the peace", he said, but added that most crime went on behind closed doors.

Anything that helps to maintain a police officer in the community is to be welcomed
Tim Morris of the National Neighbourhood Watch Association

Recruitment has outpaced the home secretary's target of 130,000 police officers by March 2003 and 132,500 by 2004.

But the number of black and Asian recruits is not increasing as fast as the overall figure.

A statistical breakdown of Home Office figures released on Wednesday, showing 133,366 officers recruited at the end of March, indicated the number of black and Asian officers in the police rose by just 0.3% in the year, compared with a 3% rise overall.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the number of officers leaving had also risen, to about 7,000 every year - 6% of the total force.

And the number of special constables remained "much lower than it needs to be".

All the police in the world will not reassure the public if they never see them on their streets and they do not respond when the public call
Simon Hughes,
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
"There is no room for complacency," he said.

Mr Hughes also called for an objective assessment in each area of how many police were needed and how they should be used.

"The public need a minimum-policing guarantee so each community in the country has a number of police officers who are contracted to stay in that community for at least four years without being taken away for other duties.

"The crucial issue for the public is not how many officers there are, but where they are.

"All the police in the world will not reassure the public if they never see them on their streets and they do not respond when the public call."

New powers from the Proceeds of Crime Act have enabled police to freeze and confiscate criminal cash on a wider scale.

The home secretary said 15.5m of the proceeds would be spent on helping police to track down the money.

He added: "Recycling 7m of criminals' money to help rebuild crime-damaged neighbourhoods is poetic justice indeed."

Home Secretary David Blunkett
"We've got to get officers out of the station and into the community"

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