"...this is the debate we ought to be having: how do we get resources from the back office on to the front line? How do we do it when right now only 11% of police officers are on the streets at any one time? That is the mess we have inherited; that is the mess we are going to clear up.”
David Cameron, Prime Minister’s Questions, 17 November 2010
“I think we all want more visible policing; it cannot be right that the system we inherited from Labour means that only 11% of police officers are ever seen on our streets at any one time. That is wrong and it must change.”
Nick Clegg, Prime Minister’s Questions, 10 November 2010
This 11% figure has been used quite a lot; it has come up again in the aftermath of last year's riots, with quotes like this: "Only one in ten police officers are on the streets fighting crime at any one time..." And this argument is used to suggest that the police force is very inefficient and can make savings without effecting community policing.
11% is quite impressive - that means 89% of police officers aren't available... Wow! And this is an official figure, it comes from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary.... You can read the Guardian's take on this report here.
The thing is though, that if one looks a bit closer at this figure, a somewhat different picture emerges.... Let's start by saying that as a nation we do want our police officers individually to have time off to sleep and eat and have a life and thus don't want them working 24 hours a day....
As you know I live in Alien Castle in England. Which lies in a small village. Now the local villagers are quite nice and don't cause much trouble but if we wanted to have a police station in the village that was staffed by one officer 24 hours a day, how many police officers would we need?
Three 8-hour shifts a day adds up to 1095 shifts a year. An individual officer working a 40 hour week would fill 260 of these shifts therefore we would need 4.2 officers. If we are going to allow them to have the normal amount of annual leave and allow for the potential of sick leave then just to staff one police station with one officer for this small village we would need 4.7 police officers.
So already we need 5 officers; so by definition only 20% of them are available at any one time (1 in 5!). Never mind the fact that real police officers do have to do a myriad of functions such as go to court from time to time and that many of the police's most effective roles such as CID are much less visible. This leads me to wonder if having 11% of serving officers actually available at any given moment is actually startlingly efficient?