Police chiefs say civilians free up officers to do what they trained to do
Police forces may soon employ more civilians than officers, the Police Federation of England and Wales claims.
The body, which represents officers, says the proportion of police to civilians has fallen sharply over a decade in forces in England and Wales.
It warns that the drive to cut costs is putting the public at risk by making it harder to handle unplanned emergencies.
Police chiefs, however, say civilian staff free up officers to do the work they trained to do.
According to the Police Federation's research, there are on average fewer than one-and-a-half officers to every civilian, down from nearly two-and-a-half.
In Surrey and Northamptonshire, the number of civilians already outstrip officers, the body says.
In the last decade, the number of employees in the forces has almost doubled, according to the federation.
Among the civilian posts are community support officers whose introduction was strongly opposed by the Police Federation.
Others include people working in custody suites or as crime scene investigators - roles previously carried out by officers.
Speaking on the eve of the federation's annual conference, its chairman Paul McKeever said the research revealed promises to keep officer numbers high might be nothing more than "smoke and mirrors".
He called on the new coalition government to order a full and independent review of policing and ask the public what it wanted from those on the beat.
Mr McKeever said: "I find it alarming that there is no tangible evidence that even suggests, let alone proves, the value brought by civilianising increasing numbers of police posts.
"At a time of financial restraint across the public sector, a rise in police staff numbers is absolute nonsense when the public want more police officers on the beat.
"Instead we have increasing numbers of unaccountable, unidentifiable police staff who do not have the flexibility or resilience to give what is needed as an emergency service."
Chief Constable Peter Fahy, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said many forces invested in staff to take the "administrative burden" away from officers.
"Police officers are better trained and better prepared to deal with unexpected and unplanned events.
"The police service is now entering what will be a very difficult period given the financial situation and will be looking very closely at every aspect of spending including the best mix of staff, best use of overtime and how to continue to protect and serve the general public."
Police minister Nick Herbert said: "The new government shares the desire of the Police Federation to see more of its officers out on the beat, keeping our communities safe.
"That is why we will cut through the bureaucracy and red tape that frustrates the police and the public alike and free up officers to get back to doing what they do best - fighting crime."