More police officers now than half a century ago

The police today have more officers per capita than in the 1960s – challenging claims that they are understaffed, figures show.

Despite claims that forces are struggling to cope, analysis of Home Office data shows that in 1961 there were 807 people for every police officer in England and Wales, whereas the most recent figures, released earlier this month in a House of Commons briefing paper, show that there are now 462 people for every officer.

Several police forces, as well as the police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, have said that recent cuts have left forces struggling to function properly.

The police were criticised for poor performance last week as the Daily Telegraph’s data analysis showed that nine in ten burglaries were left unsolved.

The Metropolitan Police has also said that it would no longer look into lower-level crime as a result of spending cuts.

Meanwhile they have come under fire for awareness-raising stunts such as officers painting their nails to highlight modern slavery.

The figures, which appeared in the Mail on Sunday, suggest that police numbers compare favourably with previous decades.

Police numbers rose during the 1980s and early 1990s, before falling to a 10-year low at the end of the 1990s and rising sharply in the early 2000s.

They have been dropping again since 2009, when they had reached a high of 141,647.

There are distinct differences between crime levels of 1961 and today. In 1961, 806,900 crimes were committed whereas ONS data shows that 5.2 million crimes were recorded this year, a 13 per cent rise from the year before.

A briefing paper published ahead of the London 2012 Olympics shows that crime per 100,000 people rose sharply during the 1960s.

An average of one million crimes per year was recorded during that decade, rising to two million during the 1970s and 3.5m in the 1980s.

More recently, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, crime peaked in 1995 and has been falling since although police recorded crime has risen in recent years.

Previous analysis of rising crime data has suggested that it can be partly attributed to changes in the way it is recorded, as well as the criminalisation of drug use and the rising value of people’s possessions and property.

The National Police Chief’s Council highlighted that the police are dealing with different crimes now than they were 50 years ago.

A spokesman said: “Policing in 2017 is very different to in the 1960s. We are dealing with an unprecedented terror threat, police recorded crime is up 13 per cent and forces are dealing with more complex, resource-intensive crime like modern slavery, child sexual exploitation, cybercrime and online fraud.

“Our mission is also wider, acting as the service of last resort for people who have fallen through the gaps of other services as well as providing effective local policing. We are meeting these challenges with officer numbers at same level as they were in 1985.”

Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd, said: “We are clear that all crimes reported to the police should be taken seriously, investigated and, where appropriate, taken through the courts and met with tough sentences.

“This Government protected overall police funding in real terms since the 2015 Spending Review and maintained that protection in a fair funding deal this year.

“The independent Crime Survey for England and Wales – acknowledged by the ONS as our best measure of long term crime trends experienced by individuals and families, shows a substantial fall of nine per cent, in the year ending June 2017 and 38 per cent since June 2010.”

Figures also show that since 2010, the proportion of officers working at the frontline has increased and is currently at more than 93 per cent.

The Home Office has previously said that according to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary there is “considerable scope to improve efficiency.”

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