As ‘policing models have changed’ according to senior staff in the force, Jamie Bowman looks at figures that show a drop in neighbourhood police officers…

Both North Wales and Chester Police Forces have seen a large drop in numbers of neighbourhood police officers according to new figures released by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit.

The survey, which analysed police workforce data over a five-year period from 2012 to 2017, found that of 11,000 police officer jobs axed in England and Wales, some 1,500 were neighbourhood policing posts – about 14 per cent (one in seven).

The number of police community support officers in England and Wales also dropped with the number falling from 14,393 to 10,205.

According to the figures, Cheshire has been particularly hit by the drop in neighbourhood policing with almost 600 fewer neighbourhood officers on the beat in 2017 than there were in 2012 – a drop of nearly 75 per cent that leaves Cheshire with 200 neighbourhood officers and 177 neighbourhood PCSOs.

Only Northern Ireland’s force can claim a bigger drop with there now being 78 per cent fewer neighbourhood officers on duty than there were in 2012, with 311 neighbourhood officers on the streets compared to 1,382 five years ago.

DCC Darren Martland, of Cheshire Constabulary, questioned the accuracy of the figures and insisted that the force’s model had changed during the period from which the numbers were taken.

He said: “The information used in this release is based on a Home Office data collection from police forces called Annual Data Return.

“The Home Office caveats their data release by stating that ‘Caution should be exercised when comparing figures for individual functions over time, particularly when there have been known changes to policing structures’.

“This is particularly true for Cheshire data in this case, where by policing structures for Local Policing changed significantly in 2015. The template for data submissions and the categories therein supplied to forces to complete have also changed over the data period reviewed.

“Prior to 2015, staff who responded to incidents and those staff who carried out proactive tasks such as problem solving, engagement and investigating crimes in the community, were grouped under the general heading of ‘Neighbourhood Policing’.

“However, since the restructure and data template change the same staff have been split into two categories under the Local Policing element of the return, ‘Neighbourhood Policing’ and ‘Incident Response Management’.

“While it is not possible to conduct a direct comparison of data before and after 2015, when our policing model changed, we can say that in line with our commitment to dedicated Local Policing, staffing across the functions of Local and Response Policing has increased.”

Neighbourhood policing involves teams of officers dedicated to working in a local community with officers work on building relationships with residents and being a visible presence.

In 2015, the Police Federation chairman Steve White warned the bobby on the beat was under serious threat from financial cuts, but was warned by then Home Secretary Theresa May to stop “crying wolf”.

A year later, an Inspector of Constabulary, Zoe Billingham, warned that police forces could be “sleepwalking” back to an old model of policing.

And Labour’s West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has claimed neighbourhood policing had been “cut to the bone and with it crucial streams of intelligence have been lost”.

According to the Government, the police workforce has remained stable over the past year following the Government’s decision to protect police funding at the 2015 Spending Review.

The number of people joining police forces as officers has increased by 58 per cent since 2015/16, which shows that policing is still a desirable and sought after career.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The independent Office for National Statistics is clear that overall traditional crime is continuing to fall, and is now down by almost 40 per cent since 2010, while fraud and computer misuse – the most commonly experienced crime – has fallen by 15 per cent in the past year.

“We know the nature of crime is changing, and we’ve spoken to every police force in the country to understand the demands they are facing.

“In December we set out a comprehensive settlement to strengthen local and national policing, which will mean police funding will increase by up to £450 million next year.”

North Wales Police has ten Safer Neighbourhood teams, which, according to the force website, are “dedicated to improving the quality of life within local communities by working with partners to tackle the issues that matter the most to local people”.

But figures show there were 70 less neighbourhood officers in 2017 compared to 2012 – a drop of 44 per cent – that leaves North Wales with 90 neighbourhood officers and 205 neighbourhood PCSOs.

Commenting on the figures, North Wales Chief Supt Wayne Jones said; “As crime becomes more complex and we work to adapt and maximise our resources, we continue to provide excellent proactive policing in all communities, working with our partners to intervene early and problem solve to prevent crime.

“Our excellent relationship with local communities, which is significantly helped through our Safer Neighbourhood Policing teams, ensures that people willingly pass information to us to help us keep areas safe.

“Recently published Crime Survey results for England and Wales showed that 79.6 per cent of people in North Wales had confidence in the police. I would like to reassure our communities that despite the pressures on the service, North Wales still remains one of the safest areas of the UK to live, work and visit.”