The challenge of recruiting 20,000 police officers

The Government officially launched its national campaign to recruit 20,000 police officers last week (5 September). The recruitment campaign was first announced in Boris Johnson’s inaugural speech as Prime Minister. The Government has since confirmed it is aiming to complete the recruitment in the next three years and hopes to have the first 6,000 officers in post by the end of the 2020/21 financial year.

This Insight looks at some of the challenges involved in the recruitment drive, the costs involved and the reaction from the policing community.

How ambitious is the target?

The pledge represents the largest police recruitment drive since the early 2000s.

In the run up to the 2001 General Election, the Labour Party promised to bring police officer numbers “to record levels” by 2004. The Party’s 2001 Manifesto pledged to recruit 6,000 extra officers. Following the General Election, the Labour Government of 2001-2005 underwent a recruitment drive which increased the number of full-time equivalent police officers by around 17,500.

So, whilst this pledge is ambitious, the police has conducted similar recruitment drives in the past.

A linegraph showing the number of full-time equivalent police officers in England and Wales by thousands. Number peaked in 2005 when there were around 140,000 and then again in 2011 but have since dropped by around 21,000 due to funding pressures.

How much will the recruitment drive cost?

The Government announced how it will fund the pledge in the 2019 Spending Round. Newly appointed Chancellor Sajid Javid provided the police with an initial £45 million in 2019/20 and additional funding of £750 million in 2020/21 to get the recruitment started.

However, the Chancellor didn’t say how this money will be split between the 43 individual police forces in England and Wales. The Spending Round states that the first 6,000 new officers will be “shared” between local police forces, national counter-terrorism teams and serious and organised crime operations, but we don’t have further details. 

How have police officers reacted to the pledge?

The pledge has generally been met with approval by those in the policing community. The National Police Chiefs Council (the coordinating body for UK police forces) said the “substantial growth in police officers” will “help us to reduce crime and improve outcomes for victims.” The Police Federation (the representative body for rank and file officers) welcomed the pledge, calling it a “positive sign” that the Government was committed to policing reform.

However, some have raised concerns about the practicalities of meeting such an ambitious target. These include worries that a competitive job market will make it difficult for some forces to attract new recruits. Some senior police officers, including Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police Bill Skelly, have argued that reforms to police recruitment and training policies will make the recruitment drive logistically difficult.

What are these reforms to police recruitment and training processes?

The recruitment drive comes as the College of Policing (the body responsible for professional standards in policing) is reforming the recruitment and training practices in police forces.

The College is introducing three new entry routes to becoming a police officer and rolling out a new standardised training programme for new constables. These reforms are designed to make the police a graduate profession, though not all prospective police officers will be required to have a degree. Successful applicants without a degree will gain a degree-level qualification upon the completion of their police training.

The reforms have been controversial within the policing community. Chief Constable Skelly says they will cause him “massive deployability issues”  because his officers will have to spend more time training in classrooms. He is seeking a judicial review of the changes with the support of his Police and Crime Commissioner. The Government and the College of Policing argue the reforms will ensure that those who work in policing have the right skills and knowledge. They say they will help the police service meet future challenges. This is a view shared by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Dame Cressida Dick and the Home Affairs Select Committee.

What about other police personnel?

Other police personnel, like control room operators, Police Community Support Officers and administrative staff help officers respond to and reduce crime. In response to Labour’s 2017 general election pledge to recruit 10,000 officers, the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that it could be more cost effective to give police chiefs the freedom to choose how to spend extra funding. This would mean a choice to recruit a mix of police officers and support personnel. Extra support could help divert work away from officers and allow them to devote more of their time to activities that have the most impact on crime reduction.

Does the recruitment drive present a “significant challenge”?

The College of Policing said that the recruitment drive represents a “huge opportunity” but will be a “significant challenge,” and they may be right. To meet Boris Johnson’s recruitment pledge, police forces are going to need to keep officers in the force wherever possible, attract new recruits and train them quickly. It will certainly be a “significant challenge” but one the police are eager to meet.

Further reading

This Insight has been adapted from House of Commons Library analysis originally published in the Research Briefing Policing in the UK.

Police service strength, House of Commons Library.


About the author: Jenny Brown is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in home affairs and justice.


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