Doubt surface over Boris Johnson’s police recruitment plan

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to recruit 20,000 police officers over the next three years, starting from September, presents significant logistical problems a senior police figure has claimed. There also concerns over its funding.

The plans (first mooted during Johnson’s election campaign and fleshed out in a speech yesterday) sets out to restore the numbers cut from the frontline of police forces in England and Wales between September 2009 and September 2017 when more than 20,000 officers were lost.

The cuts, under then home secretary Theresa May, have left some forces concerned they do not have enough training instructors or police stations to support a rapid expansion.

Kit Malthouse, the new policing minister, told BBC Radio 4 this morning that hiring the extra officers could be delayed if there is nowhere for them to be based; more than 600 police stations have closed since 2010.

Malthouse said the government would work with the “policing family” to tackle the logistical challenges of delivering on a pledge that he claimed was “achievable” and which the public wanted.

The College of Policing also warned of “logistical challenges”, partly because of concerns of a lack of instructors for training. It also welcomed Johnson’s pledge.

Mike Cunningham, the college’s chief executive, told BBC Radio 4 the challenge did not only involve gearing up to accept more recruits.

He said: “There are a wide variety of logistical challenges that come with the recruitment process … Not just getting people through the doors, [but] the assessment process, the attraction, recruitment campaigns, the vetting, all of those sorts of logistical challenges, and then of course training people, making sure they are fit for the responsibilities that they have.”

The prime minister also announced the formation of a national policing board to support the implementation of the plan. This would be chaired by the home secretary, Priti Patel, and bring together key police leaders.

Johnson said the board would hold the police to account for meeting the target and would seek to ensure that the various specific policing issues that affect different parts of the country were addressed.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chair, Martin Hewitt, said: “This substantial growth in police officers will ease the pressure on our people and help us to reduce crime and improve outcomes for victims. It is also an incredible opportunity to accelerate our plans to increase diversity in policing.”

The service has been criticised by some for its slow progress to increasing diversity but this has been hampered by recruitment freezes in almost all forces and the loss of more than 20,000 officers and 15,000 police staff since 2010.

According to police insiders’ website Police Professional, the extra cost of the recruitment drive could be 15% above the £1.1bn Mr Johnson promised to fund the pledge when he announced his embryonic expansion plan during his leadership election campaign (4 July).

Earlier this month, in his annual State of Policing report, the chief inspector of constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor warned that it was just as important to achieve productivity gains as it was to gain additional officers, because they would take 18 months to two years to be trained and effective.

He also warned that the cost of recruiting the 20,000 officers would rapidly grow in subsequent years as the new recruits advanced up the pay scales.

“What the public want is the productivity of 20,000 people of the past; that doesn’t mean they need 20,000 people,” Sir Thomas said.

He added that the current 43-force structure was acting as a barrier to solving crimes like fraud or “county lines” drug dealing and there was a need for the police to function as part of a single law enforcement system.

One area that may need changes, it has been suggested by some commentators, is the lack of centralisation of recruitment, with the 43 forces each having their own qualifications and recruitment criteria. The College of Policing’s Am I Eligible? page states: “Different forces will have different requirements so please check the force website to find out their specific requirements at that time.”

Of the need to recruit more officers, Patel, said: “The rise we’ve seen in serious violence is deeply worrying. An additional 20,000 officers sends a clear message that we are committed to giving police the resources they need to tackle the scourge of crime.”

Johnson added: “People want to see more officers in their neighbourhoods, protecting the public and cutting crime. I promised 20,000 extra officers and that recruitment will now start in earnest.”

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