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What has happened to police numbers since 2010?

Police numbers are falling. In England and Wales between March 2015 and March 2016 (the most recent government figures), “frontline” positions shrank from 110,853 to 106,411. Recruitment was down and the number of dismissals and resignations were up, continuing a five-year trend.

It has also been widely acknowledged, not least by the Prime Minister herself, that her decision to deploy troops to guard key public buildings today frees up some armed police to do policing. Of course, the optics of looking very serious by calling in the military has absolutely nothing to do with a certain date in the diary, especially after Conservative campaign strategy has collapsed. It also helps cover the fact that the numbers of coppers have slid since her “team” took power with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, at least for those folks who look at politics askance.

As campaigning starts returning to normal after Monday night’s outrage, the Tories and their media friends will probably throw propriety aside and scaremonger. Threat and the threat of threat is what they do and how they won last time. They don’t really need to explicitly say it, though. The mood among some is bound to be unsettled. As @IanPMcLaughlin put it, “I don’t feel particularly reassured by seeing several heavily armed officers today. I feel like I’m being reminded to be fearful.”

The police have repeatedly called for intelligence and counter-terrorism to be properly financed, and these were pleas that fell on Theresa May’s tin ear. While there is no guarantee any amount of security can stop a suicide bomber, more resources makes the uncovering and thwarting of plots more likely. Here below then are two charts for England and Wales that show how policing numbers have fallen since 2010 in context. The first are the government’s figures looking at absolute numbers. The second, by Matt Ashby from Notts Trent University looks at the numbers of police per 100,000 of the general population. On this metric the cuts are even starker. As the number of Britons grow, forces are having to do more with less.

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