Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 13:42 UK

Police strength hits record high

Police constables on a passing out parade
Numbers up: 1,200 more constables in last year

The number of police officers in England and Wales has hit a record high - but a third of forces cut numbers.

Home Office figures show there were nearly 2,000 more full-time officers in 2008-09 - a total strength of 143,770.

There were an extra 1,200 police constables but also a greater proportion of police community support officers across 43 constabularies.

While 27 of the forces increased the number of officers, the remaining 16 forces saw their officer strength fall.

Police numbers have been steadily rising since 2000, including the creation of community support officers with their far more limited powers.

According to the annual figures, there were 1,911 more officers on 31 March this year compared with last year. However, the number of actual serving officers fell to 141,647 when those on maternity or paternity leave, career breaks or other secondments away from main police business are taken into account.

Approximately a quarter of officers were women, a slight rise on the previous year. There was also a marginal increase in the number of ethnic minority officers to 6,310 of all officers, or 4.4% of police strength.

"With property crime rising in the recession, we need more police on the beat. Yet a third of forces have seen a cut in officer number
Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrats

While the total number of officers rose by 1%, there were 3% more police staff (79,296 posts) and 4.4% more community support officers - 16,507 officers.

In all, 40% of all staff attached to police stations are not sworn constables.

A further 2,811 officers were employed by British Transport Police, responsible for the railways, and another 504 were with the National Police Improvement Agency, charged with modernising constabularies.

The forces which saw the greatest increases in numbers were the Metropolitan Police in London (1,151 officers) Norfolk (91) Leicester (122) and Cambridgeshire (71).

Falls in the north

The largest decreases in police strength among the 16 that made cuts were in North Yorkshire (down 121 officers) Humberside (133) and South Yorkshire (148).

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "I am encouraged that there are now more police protecting the public with officer numbers at an all-time high.

"But the fight against crime is not just a numbers game and that is why chief constables have more power than ever before to ensure they focus their resources on what matters to local people and what affects their communities.

"The size and mix of the police workforce is a matter for individual chief constables, with their authorities, to decide upon."

But Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat's home affairs spokesman, questioned why some forces had seen their numbers fall.

"With property crime rising in the recession, we need more police on the beat. Yet a third of forces have seen a cut in officer numbers," he said.

"Ministers should ditch their ludicrously expensive ID card scheme and put the money into getting more police officers on our streets."

And shadow home secretary Chris Grayling added: "This is the consequence of the massive damage that Gordon Brown has done to our public finances.

"It's made all the more absurd that so much police time is spent filling out forms for the government, instead of policing our streets."

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