The House of Commons Library (HoCL) has just published a briefing paper entitled ‘Police Service Strength’ (Briefing Paper SN-00634). It provides a comparison of police numbers in the four nations of the UK, including the change in numbers that have occurred over time. Below are highlights from the report.
The first graph (above) is the police officer strength (in thousands of Full Time Equivalents) between 2006 and 2020 in England & Wales. It reveals a period of relative stability in the total up to c. 2009 followed by a very marked fall during Tory dominance in Westminster.
The next graph provides data back to 1980. It shows up how remarkable the drop in numbers from 2009 to 2017 under Tory rule actually was when viewed in historical terms.
The HoCL reports that the number of police officers per head of population in England & Wales is presently 223 FTEs per 100,000.
Statistics for Scotland
The chart below plots total police officer strength (FTEs) for Scotland from 1985 to 2020. It shows long term, steady rise followed by a short period of rapid rise, and then by a period of relative stability since c.2010. It was in April 2013 that the 8 police forces of Scotland were amalgamated under one command as Police Scotland.
The following graph, from a Scottish Government source (Police Officer Quarterly Strength Statistics Scotland, 31 December 2020), reveals more clearly the marked rise in police office numbers following the first SNP government coming to power in Holyrood. In 2020 the number of place officers (FTEs) in Scotland according to the HoCL briefing was 17,234.
Data for Northern Ireland from the HoCL show that since 2000, there has been an overall decrease in the number of full-time regular police officers, with numbers rising slightly again in 2020. As of 1 July 2020, the FTE police officer strength in Northern Ireland was at 6,917 – a 5.4% decrease on 2010.
Comparative analysis (2008 to 2018)
Surprisingly perhaps (?), the HoCL omits to provide current data on numbers of police officers per 100,000 population in Scotland and NI, giving this metric only for England & Wales. However delving into an annex – a set of spreadsheets – finds data on this ratio for the four UK nations (and for other countries too) at least for the period 2008 to 2018.
For England & Wales, since 2008 the police numbers have varied from between a high of 263 (in 2008) to a low of 207 (in 2018) per 100,000 population The equivalent metric across the same period for Scotland is notably different. The Scotland figures range between 322 (in 2008) and 321 (in 2018) per 100,000 population. Over the 10 years to 2018, the ratio in Scotland never fell below 319 per 100,000: over the same period the figure for England & Wales never rose above 263 per 100,000.
We can use the HoCL briefing to calculate a comparable metric on police officer numbers in 2020.
|Police numbers (FTE) in 2020 (HoCL)||125,276||7,191||6,917||17,234|
|Population size (HoCL table)||56,286,900||3,152,900|
|Population size (ONS mid 2019 estimate)||56,286,961||3,152,879||1,893,667||5,463,300|
|FTEs per 100,000||223||228||365||315|
The graphics below offer relevant background to the information on police numbers in Scotland. They give plots of official crime statistics from 1971 to 2020.