The police - 10 Key Facts

Spending by the police has fallen considerably since 2009/10, and so has the number of police officers. Meanwhile, the nature of demand on the police is changing, with the service reportedly responding to more ‘non-crime’ work such as dealing with people in a mental health crisis.

Inspections of forces suggest that quality has been maintained, but a number of warning signs have emerged in recent years, such as the decline in offences resulting in charges. Public concern with crime and ‘victim dissatisfaction’ are rising.

For full citations and further details see the police chapter from Performance Tracker 2018This analysis is drawn from Performance Tracker, produced by the Institute for Government in partnership with CIPFA.

1. Spending on the police has fallen by 18% since 2009/10.

  • Spending on police services is down. In 2017/18, net expenditure on police in England and Wales was around £11.8bn, an 18% reduction from 2009/10.
  • There’s evidence that forces are using their reserves to bolster day-to-day spending. Since March 2015, reserves have fallen by 22% in real terms. The proportion of forces using their reserves has increased from 14% in 2011/12 to 62% in 2016/17.

2. Overall crime has fallen by 35% since 2009/10.

  • Overall crime levels are down. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, crime (excluding fraud and computer misuse) has fallen by 35% since 2009/10, to 6.1m incidents a year. This is the best overall measure of crime, as it includes crimes without a direct victim.

3. Police-recorded crime has increased by 27% since 2009/10, to 5.5m incidents.

  • Police-recorded crime is up. Some of that is due to improvements in the way the police record things. But some of it is due to genuine increases in certain types of crime – particularly violent crime.
  • The police recorded a 16% increase in offences involving knives over the past year. This increase is corroborated by a 14% increase in medical admissions for assault by a sharp object.

4. Only 24% of incidents to which the police responded were crime related.

  • It’s not just crime taking up police time. The HMICFRS data on forces’ responses to emergency and priority incidents in 2016/17 64% were non-crime related, and 12% were responses to anti-social behaviour.
  • The police are getting more calls involving mental health. In 2017, the Metropolitan Police received an average of 315 calls per day in which concern was expressed for a person’s mental health (up from 237 in 2012).

5. The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen 15% since 2010, and is still falling.

  • Total police officer numbers have fallen considerably. At the end of March 2018, there were 122,404 police officers in England and Wales – 15% fewer than in March 2010, and 0.6% fewer than March 2017. The decline in police numbers since 2010 means that there are fewer police officers than there were in the late 1990s.
  • Some parts of the workforce have been protected while others have been cut.
    • The number of officers who primarily work in the firearms unit has risen 25% since 2015.
    • The number of ‘local’ (or ‘neighbourhood’) police has fallen by 12% since 2015.
    • There are currently an estimated 5,000 detectives fewer than is needed – a 17% shortfall.
    • The number of police community support officers has fallen by 40%.
    • The number of civilian staff has fallen by 21%.
    • The entire workforce fell by 18% between 2010 and 2018, from 244,497 to 199,752.

6. Public confidence in the police has not changed, staying at around 62%.

7. 23% of people consider crime one of the most important issues facing Britain today, the highest level for seven years.

  • This figure, from April 2018, is the highest level recorded by the Ipsos MORI Issues Index in seven years.

8. Victims are less satisfied with the police than in 2009/10.

  • And the police are reportedly less visible. Only 21% of CSEW respondents reported high visibility of police foot patrols, down from 39% in 2009/10. Those who reported that they never see police foot patrols increased from 27% to 42% over the same period.

9. The majority of police forces are still rated 'good' or 'outstanding'.

  • HMICFRS conducts annual inspections of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, and rates them on effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. On legitimacy, 86% were rated good or outstanding, a 2% fall on 2016. On efficiency, 76% were good or outstanding, a 5% fall on 2016. On effectiveness, 72% were rated good or outstanding, a 5% increase on 2016.

10. Only 9% of offences resulted in charges in 2017/18.

  • There is variation across different types of crime. 40% of possessions of weapons offences resulted in charges in 2017/18, but only 5% of sexual offences (although not all of these offences had an outcome by the time of publication).
  • Police are struggling to deal with 999 calls. In March 2018, the HMICFRS reported that almost a quarter of forces were struggling to deal with 999 calls in a sufficiently timely way. Across 32 forces, the number of abandoned 999 and 101 calls more than double between 2015/16 and 2016/17.
  • It is taking longer to process offences. The time taken to charge an offence increased from 14 days in March 2016 to 18 days in March 2018.
Update date: 
Wednesday, February 20, 2019