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Front-line Police Numbers

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

15. In which police forces the largest change in front-line police officers has taken place since May 2010. (122215)

Between March 2010 and March 2012 the total number of front-line officers fell by 6,778. West Midlands police saw the greatest reduction in the number of front-line officers. Over the past year crime there has fallen by 10%, much more than the national average, proving that what matters is not the number of officers, but how they are deployed and how effective they are at fighting crime.

At a recent coffee morning I held, constituents were overwhelming in their praise for and gratitude to the police for the work they do in our communities, yet with falling police numbers their job will get harder, not easier, and my constituents are worried about the knock-on effects. What does the Minister believe will be the impact, particularly on police morale, of a Cabinet member verbally abusing a police officer at a time of reckless front-line cuts up and down the country?

May I start by endorsing the gratitude the hon. Lady’s constituents showed to Northumbria police? I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that crime in the Northumbria police area is down by 8% from 2011 to 2012. With regard to her other remarks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) has apologised to the officer concerned and the officer has accepted the apology, and I think that for most people that would be the end of it.

Following that rather complacent and out-of-touch response, will the Minister take responsibility for the consequential increase in crime and disorder caused by the cut of more than 450 officers in west Yorkshire that will affect my constituency?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am out of touch, because crime in west Yorkshire is down by 3%. I am afraid that he seems to be out of touch with crime levels in his own constituency.

The police service for Birmingham and the west midlands is among the finest in England, but 814 of its front-line police officers are being cut. Does the Home Secretary understand the dismay being expressed by the people of Birmingham over the damage being done to their police service, and does she also understand that they cannot begin to understand why 814 officers are going in Birmingham and the west midlands but 257 are going in Surrey?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well the financial state his Government left this country in, which is why there need to be cuts. I completely agree with his tribute to West Midlands police, because, as I have said, in these difficult times they have reduced crime by 10% in the west midlands, a significant improvement, making the streets of Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands safer than they were.

Surely these are decisions for chief constables. The chief constable of Thames Valley police is managing in that area without any perceptible cut in front-line police numbers and, although one can never be complacent, I must say that crime levels in my constituency are probably as low as they have ever been in the nearly 30 years I have been a Member of this House.

I am glad to hear that. My hon. Friend is correct that there has been no fall in the number of officers in Thames Valley police, and that is at a time when recorded crime is down by 13%, which is a huge tribute to all involved. What has happened is that chief constables all over the country have worked effectively to ensure that our streets are safer. That is the basic job of the police and they are doing it very well.

Effective press and media relations are an essential tool to support front-line policing, but it is not clear to me whether or not the authorised police officers who are responsible for these matters are described as front-line. It is extremely important that, for police accountability and to prevent the abuse of power in relation to those police officers who are not authorised to speak to the media, we have full transparency about the police’s links to the media and how the media are briefed.

Transparency is an important issue for the police, as it is for other institutions such as this House. One of the improvements following the election of police and crime commissioners will be the existence of individuals with the job of holding individual forces to account. That, in itself, will be a major step forward in transparency for the police service across England and Wales.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Cambridgeshire chief constable Simon Parr, both for reducing crime by about a fifth in two years and for announcing the recruitment of 100 new police officers? Will he suggest that other chief constables look at that model?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It shows that good chief constables can decide how to deploy their resources effectively. The vast majority of them around the country are seeing crime fall in their areas, and that is what the public want.