Police workforce statistics for England and Wales were announced by the Home Office near the end of July, just after announcement of the 7% pay increase award. These showed that Operation Uplift was achieved and there are now more police officers than ever before. But is it all good news?

This blog series will explore these workforce stats in depth over the coming months, answering the important questions most people have. For example…  

  • How many police officers are there now in 2023 around the UK?
  • Have police officer numbers kept up with the population over the decades?
  • How much experience do officers now have after the recent surge of Uplift?
  • Is it true that officers are leaving in their droves, because of PCDA and other factors?
  • Why are officers leaving policing?
  • How diverse is policing now compared to before?
  • Who is working part-time, and how does this compare between males and females?
  • Have increases been targeted to front line roles, where they’re most needed?
  • How many officers are there for each rank, and how has this changed over time?
  • What does the volume and proportion of promotions look like?

It’s important for police leaders at all levels to be familiar with such issues, while working in the VUCA policing environment, with limited resources and people as your most important asset. Being mindful of such issues is also part of your wider emotionally-aware leadership (book recommendation).

Those aiming for the more strategic role of Inspector / Chief Inspector will also find such information helpful. At this more strategic level, you’ll need a grasp of basic numeracy and statistics, including being able to read graphs (not least for Numerical Reasoning Tests as part of your local force promotion process!).

You could indeed use such information as part of your wider PESTLE analysis of policing, to understand the variety of demands and challenges to policing. As a promotion candidate, you’d do well to recognise and articulate how you can contribute, while having an eye on the future.

Here in Part 1 of this stats series, we’ll cover current officer numbers around the entire UK, then look in more detail at England and Wales, comparing this against the changes in population over time.

Police promotion to Inspector

How Many Police Officers Are There in 2023?

UK police officer numbers england scotland wales

“UK policing totals 186,000 police officers.”

Across the UK, there are now around 186,000 police officers. This is based on updated figures for all the main UK forces for 2023, and fairly recent estimates for the other UK-wide police agencies and localised forces. That’s 20,000 more than I reported for the UK in 2020, entirely driven by England and Wales forces.

The above chart shows how this breaks down to each respective nation and function. By far the largest single police force is the Metropolitan police, containing nearly a fifth of all UK officers. Then comes Police Scotland with a tenth. Over half of officers reside in the non-Met English forces, comprising well over 100,000 people.

PSNI now has 6,800 officers, down from 7,000 just a year prior and where it had been stable for several years. However, the prognosis is set to deteriorate further. Chief Officers are warning PSNI officer strength will dip below 6,000 by 2025, if funding shortfalls persist.

For England and Wales, the latest Police Workforce Statistics published by the Home Office show there were 147,430 full-time equivalent (FTE) officers in post, as at 31 March 2023. That’s a new high and a whopping 24,000 officers more than four years ago in 2019, an increase of 14%. It’s nearly 4,000 more than the previous high of 143,769 in 2009. For context, officer numbers reduced by 15% between 2010 and 2018, as austerity bit and Chief Officers chose where to make the cuts in their budgets.

England Wales police officers 1980 -

The chart above shows an overall increasing trend for officers across the 43 provincial forces in England and Wales over the last 40+ years. The most recent surge (‘Operation Uplift’) from 2019 to 2023 exceeds the 2001-2005 significant increase in officers. There will have been many new and fresh-faced recruits to develop back then too. But the previous surge in numbers only lasted five years, before the well-documented decline. How long can policing hold on to its current officer levels in England and Wales?

You may be wondering how the trends compare in Police Scotland. Latest figures over the border, also as at March 2023, show that Scotland has 16,615 FTE officers. However, this is now at the lowest level for over 15 years, following an apparent mass exodus of cops since 2021.

Police Scotland officer numbers 2007 to 2023

The number of officers in Police Scotland peaked in 2013, at nearly 17,500. So the reduction since then is nearly 900, or -5%, against a population that has increase by 200,000 (+4%). This means that the force has reduced from 328 officers per 100,000 population in 2013 to 300 in 2023. But of course, this remains higher than the 242 per 100,000 serving England and Wales.

Let’s now look in more depth at how the England and Wales police officer numbers have changed compared directly against the population growth.

Have Officer Numbers Kept Pace with Population Changes?

Police officers vs population to 2023

“…the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” – Peelian Principle

While police officer numbers in England and Wales are at record highs, so is the population following the 2021 Census and population estimates since. Above is the long-term picture of total police officer numbers across England and Wales tracked against the population since 1946. That’s nearly 80 years of policing the public! You won’t find such a compilation of various data sources anywhere else.

This historic perspective and context is interesting. Following the end of the Second World War to the early 1980s, the growth in officer numbers exceeded that of the general public to be policed. At the start of this record in 1946, there were just 52,000 cops. That’s 128 officers per 100,000 population. Or put another way, 782 people for each officer to police. By 1983, this had risen to over 119,000 cops, nearly doubling the ‘officers per 100,000’ to 24q (or an officer for every 415 people).

Things then grew broadly in proportion with the population for the next 10 years, peaking in 1993 at 126,000 officers (247 per 100,000 population). That was until a stagnation and then gradual decline in officer numbers occurred in the mid- to late-1990s. In ‘Y2K’ (remember that furore?) there were just under 122,000 cops, reducing the ‘per 100,000’ rate to just 234.

The first decade of the 21st century then saw rapid changes for policing. A growth spurt saw officer numbers climb by 19,000 within five years to 2005, then increased more gradually to their prior peak of nearly 144,000 during 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, the population also grew significantly, by 3.5 million people from 2000 – 2010. So by 2010, there were 254 police officers per 100,000 population (one for every 393 people).

The well-reported and unprecedented decline of over 21,000 officers then took hold between 2011-2018, dropping to just over 122,000 officers. Those levels hadn’t been seen since 2000, but since then the population had largely increased too. So by 2018, the ‘per 100,000’ level was down to a meagre 203. You have to go back to 1973 to find proportions that low.

Finally, from 2019 to 2023, Uplift took hold and increased officer numbers by 24,000, to its current new record of over 147,000. The population has also continued to grow in this time, albeit at a slower pace than officer growth. That means we are now at a situation where officers per 100,000 population stands at 242, restoring the rate last seen in 2011.

The below chart demonstrates the year-on-year changes in police officer numbers since the 1940s. It’s a fascinating one, clearly demonstrating where the exceptional times are and where policing has felt the biggest changes. The extreme turbulence since the turn of this century is one many experienced cops will no doubt recognise!

Police officer workforce changes year on year

Where do you believe officer numbers will head next? Further increases in line with population? Stagnation? Or will we see further budget cuts to fund the recent 7% police pay award, meaning Chief Officers around forces will decide to cut their officer strength again to make ends meet? Here’s a summary of the UK government spending and forecasts for clues. Comment below with your thoughts!

For now, I’ll leave you with how that officer rate per 100,000 population looks and has changed over all our lifetimes…

UK Police per 100,000 population

Kind Regards, Steve

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