The government has said it is on track to meet its target of 6,000 additional police officers in England and Wales by March 2021, as online assessment allows forces to continue hiring.
Since the government launched its campaign last September to recruit 20,000 additional officers, 3,005 recruits joined the police specifically as part of the uplift programme. In total, police forces recruited 6,435 officers from November 2019 to March 2020, including recruitment planned before the campaign was announced. There are now a total of 131,596 officers, a 5% increase on March 2019.
Home secretary Priti Patel held a video call with new recruits at Lancashire Constabulary. She said: “Each one of these brave officers will make a difference in helping to cut crime and keep people safe. For many, their first role has been to join the fight to stop the spread of coronavirus, protect the NHS and save lives.
“Thanks to new digital assessment centres, the doors remain wide open for anyone who wants to join them and make a difference in their community.”
The way we assess, recruit and train new recruits has changed significantly as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We must ensure that standards are maintained throughout the whole recruitment and assessment process; this is a red line for us and something we will not allow to be relaxed” – John Apter, Police Federation
The College of Policing is rolling out new online assessment centres to support police forces recruiting officers during the coronavirus pandemic.
It said former police officers who wish to re-join the service will undergo an assessment of their knowledge and skills and can undergo emergency training if necessary.
Police forces can also deploy emergency training for student officers to cover the basic operations expected of constables on patrol. These include the use of police powers, ethics and protecting the vulnerable.
Forces carry out biometric vetting to obtain DNA and fingerprints. The government has said biometric testing can go ahead and due to the close contact with new recruits, the College of Policing has issued new guidance for forces to obtain the samples as safely as possible.
It includes candidates taking self-samples under supervision of police staff and where staff who would usually carry out the tests are not available, using officers familiar with the techniques used such as those who work in custody.
The online assessment process enables effective assessment of the required competencies and values and meets the current standards for assessing new recruits. The College of Policing has begun the initial roll out to a small number of forces, including West Midlands and Hampshire, and is working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to make online assessment accessible to all forces by 30 June.
The College of Policing’s chief constable Mike Cunningham said: “All of these new measures will allow forces to continue recruitment and bring in more officers to keep the public safe at this critical time. Our work means that those joining or returning to policing will have the knowledge and skills they need to do the job. The pace in which these changes have been delivered cannot be underestimated.”
The online assessment process includes situational judgement tests, briefing exercises and interviews. New recruits are receiving tailored training so they can be safely deployed to the frontline and support the police’s emergency response as soon as possible.
Figures from the NPCC showed that overall crime fell by 28% in the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak.
NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said: “With over 3,000 additional officers already joining policing in the past seven months, we are well on our way to meeting our target of 6,000 by March next year.
“Working with the Home Office, we are making every effort to keep recruitment of officers going despite all the challenges coronavirus brings. Creative solutions from the College of Policing will help to ensure this momentum is not lost and that recruitment and training can continue during the pandemic.”
John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “Whilst this does not undo the damage done by a decade of cuts to policing, it is definitely a step in the right direction to rebuild what we had before austerity measures hit hard.”
But he sought reassurance that the government will fund years two and three of this programme. Regarding the online assessment centres, Apter said: “The way we assess, recruit and train new recruits has changed significantly as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. We must ensure that standards are maintained throughout the whole recruitment and assessment process; this is a red line for us and something we will not allow to be relaxed.”