Recent publication of the police workforce statistics and quarterly police ‘Uplift’ statistics demonstrate the 20,000 increase in officer numbers is all but missed. However, this controversial cop replenishment scheme has also brought other changes in the service. This blog outlines the key statistics released, what that means for officer numbers in England and Wales, and what’s going on elsewhere.

20k Police Uplift to Fall Short by 1.5k or More…

The 20,000 Uplift target has put significant pressure on forces to turbocharge recruitment, getting new officers in faster than ever before. See for example the below updated chart showing the year on year changes in officer numbers in England and Wales since 1947. 

Police officer numbers England and Wales

This urgency has inevitable knock-on effects on standards and risking “recruiting the wrong people”. Not least when combined with the complicating factor of police degrees (see dedicated blog) being thrown into the mix!

Despite the fast influx of new recruits, the Uplift target is all but missed. The latest quarterly figures to December 2022 show numbers stagnating around the 16,800 mark (as shown in snapshot of Home Office report below). By the March 2023 target date, this can reasonably be expected to reach 18,500 at best, though maybe less at around 18,000. Either way and given the time remaining, it’s highly unlikely the full 20,000 can now be met.

Police uplift quarterly stats

Despite this, replenishing officer numbers is something not to be sniffed at. As demonstrated in the Uplift quarterly updates, the drive has also increased diversity of the workforce across multiple protected characteristics.

Coming back to the bigger picture, what effect has this surge (or resurgence) had on officer numbers?

England and Wales Officer Numbers Latest

Police officer numbers since 2000

Though the Uplift will most likely fall short, the increase to date has brought officer numbers back in line with growth in the population. Whilst still clearly far short of the ‘noughties’ era, officers per thousand population have returned to that seen through the 1980s and 1990s.

Whatever your view on the Uplift scheme, it’s welcome that police officers in England and Wales are being replenished; replenished being the more truthful word than ‘uplift’. Assuming the Chief Officers of forces are utilising their resources effectively and maximising the front line, more cops means more policing. However, in other parts of the UK, things seem less positive…

Police Scotland and PSNI Officer Numbers Dwindling

Police Scotland have seen a reduction of nearly 800 officers (-5%) in just two years. As reported recently by the Scottish government, there’s now just 16,644 cops in latest figures to December 2022. That’s the lowest level in 14 years and despite a massive recruitment drive in 2022 of 900 new officer recruits, according to the Scottish government. This suggests a very high turnover rate north of the border.

Police Scotland officer numbers

Things across the Irish Sea seem bleaker still. Recent reports highlight the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is at its lowest officer numbers since the force was formed in 2001. Officer totals are forecast to be cut to 6,700 by March 2023 in the face of financial constraints. These cuts include 96 detectives, 75 neighbourhood posts, 97 from roads policing, specialist search and public order officers and 115 across police staff posts. This has led the Chief Constable to inform Stormont leaders that the consequences will be a “less visible and responsive police service.” because of budget constraints. It comes despite a commitment of 7,500 from the ruling political parties three years ago.

Crying Wolf?

Crying wolf

“Crying wolf has to stop.” – Theresa May (Home Secretary)

It all seems reminiscent of Theresa May’s crying wolf warnings, before the wolf then decimated police officers and staff on the mainland during the next decade. The PSNI have said “We will have a funding shortfall of around £80m by March this year and envisage bigger shortfalls in the years to come. The service is going to shrink in the next three years.”

Reduced officer numbers also of course has knock-on effects, including making police promotions even more competitive and challenging for candidates to paint a brighter picture of the future. But these challenges can be surmounted with some smart, targeted preparation…

“I’m very pleased to report I got my results and I passed my board! There were over 400 candidates and I placed well so I’m happy with that. There’s no doubt in my mind your Masterclass and materials were vital to my success. I highly recommend them to others considering promotion. I’m delighted to have succeeded first time.” – Anon, Passed Sergeant PSNI promotion process

Uplifting the Future

The future of policing has lots of questions and few definitive answers. It’s difficult to predict the future, but police numbers and strength will always be of interest and focus. If you aspire to future promotion, understanding your force’s areas of concern and challenges faced now, together with those facing policing in future, is a significant aspect of effective preparation ahead of any promotion opportunity. Especially considering how such questions are often posed in presentation scenarios of promotion boards, in effect asking how will you help fix things?

“We’re not living in the 21st century in policing at the moment. For us to be a proper part of the future, we’ve got to get our act together on things like Artificial Intelligence, to use it to our advantage.” – Police Superintendent 

As a newly promoted leader, manager and supervisor, you will be part of the future policing environment and leading change. Being an optimist helps, so if that’s you, you’ll be interested to know that The College of Policing’s Future Operating Environment 2040 report is one resource to support you in thinking more strategically about the future. It provides insights into the police operating environment as far as 2040, exploring aspects of the future that should be considered now, to prepare the service for the challenges that lie ahead. 

I’ll leave you to get your thinking cap on for now, but if you’d like support with your aspirations, Rank Success is always here to help you on your promotion journey. There’s still a few places on my upcoming promotion masterclass if you’d like to join me later this month.

Kind Regards, Steve

Want to go further right now? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, and/or my Police Promotion Masterclass. You can also contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videoseGuidesa podcast.

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