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Figure it out

It’s the top story on the Home Office website.


“Almost 6,000 officers join police as coronavirus enforcement steps up,” says the headline.


The article contains the latest details of Boris Johnson’s campaign to boost police officer numbers in England and Wales by 20,000 by March 2023, a pledge he initially made on taking office in July 2019.


The figures include, for the first time, information about the ethnicity of police officers taken on under the PM’s recruitment drive.


And what that reveals is that forces are still not hiring enough black, Asian and mixed heritage officers to make a significant difference to the make-up of the service.


Between April and September 2020, 6,246 people joined the 43 constabularies.

Of those who disclosed their ethnic background, 10.7% identified as an ethnicity other than white, a figure statisticians say “remains below the representation" of minority ethnic groups in the population; the population figure was 14% at the time of the 2011 Census and is likely to have gone up since then.


With typical under-statement, officials add that the proportion of ethnic minority new joiners amounts to "small progress" on the figure for new recruits in 2019-20, which was 10.3%.

What it all suggests is that if the recruitment push is going to make a substantial difference to the ethnic composition of the police workforce, as many have hoped it will, then something needs to change, and change quickly.

The latest figures show that 7.3% of officers are from minority ethnic groups, with black people particularly under-represented: they accounted for just 1.7% of new recruits between April and September, about half the 2011 Census figure for the population. In March this year, 12 forces had no black female officers in their ranks; Cleveland had no black officers at all, men or women.

The recruitment drive, though, has certainly attracted interest, with 107,656 applications since October 2019.

The Home Office says there were 6,413 more officers in September 2020 than in March 2019 - which it is using as a baseline for the Johnson target. The majority of the new joiners have come under his initiative.


But the statistics need to be approached with great care.

The Home Office press release says "there is now a total headcount of 134,885 officers".


"Headcount" is the total number of policemen and women, full-time or part-time, who are currently employed; officials are using it to assess progress on the 20,000 target. I'm sure the department would like us to quote the headcount figure when talking about police officer numbers - but it is not the way officer numbers are usually presented and it should not be used to make comparisons with earlier years.

The Full Time Equivalent (FTE) figure is the number that has traditionally been used and is the number that matters. In March 2010, just before the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition came to power, there were 143,734 FTE police officers. Over the next eight years, the numbers tumbled by 21,329 before climbing to 129,110 in March this year.

But that’s still 14,624 down on 2010.


The latest police workforce data also reveal there are 7,738 fewer police community support officers and 11,106 fewer civilian police staff than there were in 2010. In total, officer and staff numbers are almost 34,000 down on where they were a decade ago.

But none of those figures makes it onto the Home Office press release either.

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