More police officers quit than joined the service last month as the Government faces a struggle to fulfil its flagship policy on police recruitment.
Home Office figures show that police have recruited 16,753 of the extra 20,000 officers promised by the Boris Johnson administration in its uplift programme, with just three months to go to hit their target.
It meant that the Government is 3,427 officers short of the total that it aims to meet by the end of March. It followed a third December in a row where more officers left the workforce than were recruited, meaning that the net uplift in officers fell from 16,795 to 16,753.
Ministers believe they will still hit the mark, claiming they were “well on the way” to 20,000, but admitted it would be close.
Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, warned that his force, the largest in Britain, is expected to miss its end-of-March target by the “high hundreds” because of a tougher job market and the increasing numbers of officers leaving the Met.
He told the London Assembly: “The retention issue is steadily creeping up in terms of the number leaving. In terms of recruitment, we have recruited around 9,500 in the last three years… There are only a certain number of people who want to be police officers and you start to exhaust the market.
“There is the issue of pay competitiveness. I am very concerned about police officer pay. Clearly, the operating environment and the public debate will affect those issues as well and so we are looking hard at what we can do to improve that.”
The statistics show that the net number of extra officers flatlined for the three months to the end of December at 16,500 to 16,750. Of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, 17 have failed to recruit a single new officer in the past two months.
But Chris Philp, the policing minister, said they were 84 per cent of the way to the 20,000 target, adding: “I think it will be met. I think it will be quite a close-run thing, but I think we are going to meet it.
“When we do, we will have a record number of officers, and more officers than we have ever had in this country’s history by around 3,000, which is something that communities will welcome with more officers to patrol the street, combat crime and prosecute criminals.”
Record number of ethnic minority officers
The figures also show a record 11,691 ethnic minority officers and a high of 51,107 women officers in England and Wales. More than four in 10 new recruits, 42.6 per cent, were female and 11.5 per cent identified as ethnic minorities.
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, said: “Improving confidence in our police forces means we must attract the brightest and the best to one of the toughest but most rewarding jobs in our country. I am delighted we are on track to deliver our bold promise to the British people of putting 20,000 additional officers on the streets.
“This next generation of brave police officers will add to efforts to drive down invasive crimes like burglary and neighbourhood offences, return to common sense policing and make our communities feel safer and stronger.”