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Wiltshire Police Federation

Frontline 'police officer' numbers rise in Wiltshire - but figures could be 'misleading'

8 September 2018

Swindon Advertiser

Official government figures suggest there are 37 more frontline officers in Wiltshire this year compared to 2015, a rise of seven per cent. The numbers compare favourably to the national picture, with forces across the country losing more than 7,000 officers in the past three years.

However, Insp David Ibbott, chairman of the Wiltshire Police Federation, suggested the rise was misleading.

The experienced officer, who joined Wiltshire Police in 1992, said: “Some of those frontline officers are not police officers, they’re Police Community Support Officers, who have very limited powers. They’re not police officers, they can’t arrest people.”

Officers had been put on the frontline from back office roles, with their responsibilities handed to police staff or other agencies.

He said the force had lost 250 officers since 2007. Austerity had hit officers hard, as they faced additional responsibilities like preparing cases for trial and an increase in abuse on officers: “Pay and conditions for police officers has never been so bad as they are now. When I joined in 1992, police officers had a housing allowance and expected to have a reasonable pay rise.

“To me and the Police Federation, this government has shown a complete lack of respect [to officers]. If you pay a one per cent rise a year, what message does that send out about how your police service is valued?”

The view from Wiltshire Police

Wiltshire Police chief constable Kier Pritchard said the demands on his officers were changing, requiring a more joined-up approach with partners like local councils. He added: "Our priority is always to keep the public safe and protect our communities and it is therefore vital that we have a solid frontline presence to ensure Wiltshire remains one of the safest counties in the country.

“It is important to point out that the ‘frontline’ does not refer purely to police officers. We have a large number of police staff employees who work directly as part of frontline policing. This includes Major Crime Investigators, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), Local Crime Investigators and call handlers to name just a few. Each of these plays a vital role in policing within our county and requires a multitude of skills which helps further enhance and free up frontline police officers to deal with issues which require their warranted powers.

“As demands on our services continue to change, we will continue to work closely with partner agencies to ensure a joined up approach to dealing with those matters affecting our communities, whether that may be visible or non-visible. This is vital to ensure that we are able to offer the most effective and efficient service, and also to ensure that the most appropriate agency is engaged from the outset.” 

Angus Macpherson, police and crime commissioner, said: "I was able to protect the 445 police officers and 131 Police Community Support Officers involved in local policing by raising the policing element of council tax by an average of £1 a month. And I am grateful to the people of Wiltshire and Swindon who supported the increase.

"It is a mistake to believe that frontline policing is restricted to uniformed officers and PCSOs.

“Protecting vulnerable adults, young people and children often goes on behind closed doors and involves Wiltshire Police officers and staff who are not necessarily wearing a uniform.

Nationally, forces in England and Wales have lost one in ten frontline officers. A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Last year, the minister for policing and the fire service spoke to every force about the changing demand they face and we are helping with a £460m increase in overall funding 2018/19, including increased funding to tackle counter-terrorism and for local policing.”