The chairman of Lancashire Police Federation fears plummeting numbers of officers will affect the service they provide – at a time when they deal with more work than ever.
By 2015, there will be fewer police officers on the beat than at any time since the 1970s, says a new report.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) data shows there were 3,323 officers working in the county last year.
But HMIC predicts there will be just 3,099 in two years’ time – the lowest figure on the beat in Lancashire since 1979, when there were only 3,097.
Rachel Baines, who heads the body which represents the county’s rank and file officers, said: “Lancashire’s population has grown massively since the 1970s and many of the types of crime we are dealing with now didn’t even exist in 1979: computer and internet crime and credit card fraud.
“It’s alarming that we are dipping down to such low figures.
“The workload hasn’t decreased, even though we have reduced crime rates.
“Crime reporting and crime investigation are not the only things the police are involved in – it’s a small proportion of the work we do.
“Tackling anti-social behaviour, going out into communities, proactive work and reassurance work is not recorded as a statistic.
“We’ve seen an increase in supporting other agencies who are also facing budget cuts.
“I think we’ve got to accept that if you have less officers there is going to be a reduction in the level of service we are able to provide, undoubtedly.
“My fear is that response times might be affected.”
At its 2009 high, there were 3,753 officers employed by Lancashire Police.
That number has fallen year-on-year since 2010 and the estimated decrease from 2010 to 2015 will be 15 per cent.
The force has already made £47m of savings and Ms Baines said police support staff, who were not included in these figures, were also being reduced. She said: “We’ve got to find another £20m of cuts.
“We’ve got no assets left to sell, we’ve sold off all the police stations we can, all the rural beats have gone, every department has been reviewed, and with 80 per cent of the police budget being spent on staff wages it can only mean a reduction in the number of police officers and police staff.
“The concern is for the community and the safety of the public.
“It’s something we can’t criticise our chief constable for – his hands are tied.
“It’s pressures from the Government that are causing such radical changes.”
Clive Grunshaw, the new Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire, admitted the figures were accurate.
He said: “There is no doubt Government cuts have had a significant impact on policing levels, not just in Lancashire.
“Thankfully, plans have been in place to monitor and adapt to these changing levels in policing numbers in Lancashire for some time.
“Since becoming commissioner, I have worked closely with the chief constable to identify how we can manage this challenge.
“I have already announced funding to maintain the current level of frontline police officers in my 2013/14 budget report and a further 50 frontline police officers were recruited in January.”
But the Ingol Community Association’s Gordon Wang, who quizzed Coun Grunshaw during last year’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections, said the estimated decrease was “ridiculous”.
He said: “This will have a cataclysmic effect on neighbourhoods not just in Preston but throughout the whole of Lancashire.
“Instead of taking that figure of 3,323 and reducing it by 200 or so, they should be increasing it by at least that amount, if not more.
“Basically this world is run by accountants and while they may be very intelligent people, they have got the commonsense of gnats.
“The principle is ‘let’s get rid of 200 officers’ and see how much money we’ve saved, but it costs in terms of safety.
“Crime rates go up and then all of a sudden the saving is lost because of extra costs to everybody.”