Police commissioner vows to recruit 900 specials as officer numbers drop 130 in five years

Northamptonshire's latest specials with DCC Martin Jelley, Special Constabulary Chief Officer Mike Maywood and PCC Adam Simmonds NNL-140630-155318001
Northamptonshire's latest specials with DCC Martin Jelley, Special Constabulary Chief Officer Mike Maywood and PCC Adam Simmonds NNL-140630-155318001

The number of serving police officers in Northamptonshire has fallen by 130 in the past five years.

And there are a quarter fewer police community support officers than there were in 2010.

In 2010, there were 1,412 warranted officers in Northamptonshire Police, including all ranks from chief constable to police constable. Now, that number has dropped to 1,280.

The number of PCSOs has fallen from 164 in 2010 to 124 in 2014.

Following the release of these figures – the result of a Freedom of Information request – Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds, elected on the back of a campaign to provide more visible policing, has promised that numbers will not drop any further.

Although he says his budgets do not allow for any increase in the number of regular officers, he says an army of 900 volunteer special constables will help him bolster community policing.

Mr Simmonds set out an ambitious plan to recruit hundreds of unpaid local people to join the force in all job areas, from PCs to dog handlers. If he achieves his aim to recruit them by May 2016, Northamptonshire will have the largest special constabulary in the country.

Mr Simmonds said: “When I took over from the Police Authority in 2012, they had agreed to a further reduction of 100 officers.

“People were retiring and had been given permission to go, so I agreed to a reduction of 50, but said I would not let that number drop below 1,220.

“It hasn’t and I don’t want it to go any lower.

“The force has to think differently about how we make savings of £23m over five years.

“We are taking resources from departments like HR and IT, but all these functions still need to be performed so we’ve looked at collaborations with other forces and different ways of working.

“We’re one of only six forces in the country that have decided not to get rid of police officers.”

Police community support officers were introduced in 2004 to support the work of police officers and provide a visible presence on the streets, albeit with very limited powers.

By 2010 there were 164 PCSOs, but in 2014 there were only 124 left.

Part of the reason is that many were part-funded by local authorities who, after having their budgets slashed by central Government, could no longer afford them.

Mr Simmonds added: “Where PCSOs were match funded, and that money is no longer available, then the roles have to go.

“I respect PCSOs and their contribution is immense, but I think if they had a choice, the public always wanted more police officers.”

In order to fulfil his pledge to provide more visible policing, Mr Simmonds has begun the process of recruiting 900 special constables by May 2016.

He estimates he will have about 500 by Christmas. In order to attract more people to the unpaid role, he has given it a major overhaul. Now, instead of being offered beats that may be anywhere in the county, during anti-social hours, Mr Simmonds has opened up a huge range of new roles to specials.

“We’re introducing the role of parish constable, which means you can choose to police your own village or town. You can choose what hours you work and we are allowing parish councils to target specific areas that need them.

“If you’re an accountant you can work on our fraud team. A teacher might like to do some policing in schools. A medic might want to work in our custody suite.

“I’m not naive enough to think that it won’t be hard to recruit 900 specials. The public wants more officers, but there’s no more money so what do you do? You volunteer and you make a difference to your own community. If this works, we’ll have the biggest special constabulary in the country.”