Passing out parade: Federation predicts fewer in future
Burglaries and other property crime could jump by a quarter because of the recession, according to research for the Police Federation.
But the body that represents rank-and-file officers suggests that there will not be enough officers to respond.
It says officer numbers are falling in contrast to police strength increasing during previous recessions.
But the Home Office says there are 15,000 more officers than in 1997 - and record numbers are being maintained.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has launched a new government crimefighting strategy to tackle both new types of crime and "new causes" of crime.
In a speech at a crime conference in west London, the prime minister also promised £4m of criminal assets would be made available for anti-crime projects decided by local communities.
Mr Brown said: "We face new kinds of crime - especially knife crime, organised crime, e-crime and identity theft - and now, of course, the new challenge of preventing what happened in previous recessions, where crimes like burglary and robbery went up.
"We face new causes of crime, including binge drinking, youth gangs and problem families."
He announced plans for the public to identify streets where they feel unsafe, a proposal to limit the areas where gang members can travel and measures to introduce a code of contact for alcohol sales.
According to the Police Federation, which began its annual conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday, the government needs to find the money for an extra 2,000 officers to maintain the current level of service, if crime rises as expected during a recession.
The total number of police officers in England and Wales rose significantly a few years into Tony Blair's government, reaching a high of approximately 144,000 in 2004.
Since then, the number of officers has levelled off at around 140,000.
According to the federation's calculations, property crimes like burglaries will grow in line with previous economic downturns.
But it says the number of uniformed officers is actually falling. It predicts there will be 251 officers per 100,000 of population by 2011 compared with 254 at the moment.
The federation says that during previous recessions, the number of officers either remained stable or rose.
Its calculations do not adjust for the 15,700 Police Community Support Officers around England and Wales and the rapid rise in the UK population in recent years.
While national figures for recorded crime have shown two recent rises in burglaries, many forces say they have seen no change in the number of break-ins.
The risk of being a victim of crime remains at a historically low level, according to one of the government's measure.
Paul McKeever, chairman of the federation, said: "With crime rates set to increase as the recession deepens, politicians of all parties need to sit up and take notice of this Police Federation research which clearly shows that the resilience of the service will be damaged unless police officer strength is increased over the next three years."
But policing minister Vernon Coaker said the government had already taken steps to head off any rise in burglaries, including work to improve home security. He said the precise numbers of officers in any force was the decision of chief constables.
"Overall, there are now historically high numbers of police officers - since 1997 their number has increased by 15,000," he said.
"With the introduction of Neighbourhood Policing teams and the Policing Pledge, police have the knowledge and flexibility to tackle local crime priorities and ensure that we can continue to keep crime down."