Comparing police numbers to past not ‘helpful’

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Comparing police numbers to pre-austerity levels is not “terribly helpful”, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has said.

Mrs Bourne was speaking during a meeting of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel on Friday (25th June), during a presentation on her office’s performance during the past year.

Police Numbers

In her report, Mrs Bourne confirmed the force had been able to recruit an additional 179 officers during 2020/21. This included 129 officers from the Government’s uplift funding, plus 50 from the increased police precept.

In light of this, West Sussex County Councillor James Walsh (Lib Dem) asked if this recruitment drive had seen the force return to “pre-cuts” numbers.

Mrs Bourne said:

I think we have to move on. I came into office in 2012 – that was nine years ago – and austerity was a while ago. 

What I think we need to look at now is the officers we have [and] how we are utilising them. Are they being as effective as they can be?

Certainly officers now have Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs), which they didn’t have when I first came into office. The smart phones to you and I. There is a lot more that technology enables for these officers as well. 

I don’t think it is terribly helpful to keep looking back 10 years ago. Let’s look forwards on that.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

This answer did not appear to satisfy Dr Walsh, however, who said:

With respect, I wasn’t asking about the performance, I was asking about the numbers, at the pre-cuts levels and have we got back to that level. 

I’m not asking about performance, I am asking about the numbers and the establishment.

Cllr James Walsh

Mrs Bourne responded:

When you say pre-cut level, when do you want to go back to? 1890 when the police were established, 1910, 1930?”

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

Dr Walsh asked for the figures from when Mrs Bourne first took office in 2012. 

The Commissioner agreed to provide the Panel with comparative officer numbers from when she took office in 2012.

While the figures were not available during the meeting, data from the House of Commons Library shows Sussex Police had the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) of 2,959 officers, as of 31st March March 2012.

As of the 31st March 2020, the force had the FTE of 2,717 officers, although it is unclear what effect the most recent recruitments will have had on this figure.

The data, which goes back to 2003, shows that at its height (in 2010) the force had an FTE strength of 3,213. This fell year-on-year until 2018, when the force’s FTE strength was 2,549, before beginning to increase again.

As a caveat, this data includes officers who are employed by Sussex Police but who may not be available for active duty.

Mobile Data Terminals

Later in the meeting, Mrs Bourne spoke more about mobile data terminals saying new abilities had been added to the devices in the last year. These included the ability to take fingerprints. 

More generally, these devices allow officers to access information and fill in forms while out on beat.

Mrs Bourne said the devices had been particularly helpful during the last year, as they had allowed officers to access to the most up-to-date Public Health guidance and information on restrictions with respect to Covid-19. They also granted officers the ability to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches of coronavirus regulations.

At its first face-to-face meeting since Covid restrictions were introduced last year, the Panel received the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner’s draft annual report, elected a new chairman and vice chairman and appointed members to its budget and precept working group.

Katy Bourne Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

Katy Bourne, who was returned as Commissioner in May’s elections, introduced her report with thanks and praise for Sussex Police officers and staff who had worked throughout the pandemic. James Walsh stood against Katy Bourne for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016.

She highlighted the successes of the year April 2020 to March 2021, including increased enforcement, investigation and more visible policing in towns and village, as well as online.

101 Waiting Times

Mrs Bourne said she was pleased with significant improvements made to 101 waiting times during the year, with average waiting times falling from 14 to 15 minutes to six minutes and continuing to fall.

She also highlighted the success of the rural policing team, now one of the biggest in the South East.

Questions were asked about diversity and whether crime and victim figures could be broken down to ethnic backgrounds to illustrate where support services should be targeted.

Members also asked about the policy for spending money from the Proceeds of Crime Act and the Commissioner agreed to give a presentation to members about this at a future meeting.

Concerns were also raised about an increase spend on the Commissioners office, but Mrs Bourne pointed out the cost of running her office was 0.45 per cent of the entire Sussex Police budget.

She said:

I think it’s good value for money, when you look at the annual report and you see the breadth of the work that my office undertakes and the way that I am able to bring extra funding in to Sussex Police as well.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

Speaking after the meeting, newly elected chairman Cllr Christian Mitchell (Cons) said:

The meeting gave us a good opportunity to scrutinise the Commissioner’s annual report and really dig into the detail of how taxpayers’ money is being used.

It has been an extremely difficult year, particularly for those in the emergency services, and it was good to see the results of all their hard work.

Cllr Christian Mitchell

During the meeting, Cllr Bob Standley (Cons) was appointed Vice-Chair.

The next meeting of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel will take place on Friday 24th September 2021.

Click for more information about the work of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel.

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