The rising numbers of civilian staff in police forces is putting policing at risk, the Police Federation has warned.
The body, which represents all 140,000 police officers, warned the number of “unaccountable, unidentifiable” civilian police staff, which included community support officers, had increased by 80% since 2000, while officer numbers rose by just 16%.
This rise in civilian staff was damaging the resilience of the service, it said.
Some forces saw civilian levels more than double, with Surrey Police now having more staff than officers, the Daily Telegraph has reported.
The Police Federation accused chief officers of putting “short-term cost savings ahead of public safety”.
Paul McKeever, the federation’s chairman, 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.”
He added: “Now is the time to stop this unco-ordinated and ill-constructed plan that will destroy the police service in England and Wales; to implement a full independent review and to have the courage to ask the public what they actually want and expect from their police service.”
The federation’s report found that across the 43 forces in England and Wales, 29 have a ratio of officers to civilians of less than 1.5:1.
But the head of Surrey Police has defended his decision to employ more civilian staff than officers.
Chief constable Mark Rowley told the Independent he had been able to achieve “more for less” by building teams of staff around police constables.
He said: “We see the police constable as the professional expert around which successful policing teams are built and we have increased the use of support staff ensuring police officers make the most use of their high levels of skill, experience and powers.”
Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and lead on workforce development for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “The resilience of policing comes from the teamwork of police officers and a host of other roles.”
But a report by the National Police Improvement Agency found mixed results from increasing civilian staff numbers, with Northamptonshire and Staffordshire unable to reach targets, and Surrey lowering its sights from improvement to maintaining performance at a lower cost.
It also questioned the sustainability of the changes, saying their long-term value was unproven and questioned whether savings would outweigh the cost of changing practices.