Frontline police officers say they are at breaking point after David Cameron hailed the latest drop in crime as proof forces can cope with cuts to their numbers.
The Prime Minister yesterday congratulated officers in the North East for achieving yet another fall in offences, despite their budgets being slashed by his Government’s austerity measures.
And Mr Cameron argued the figures released yesterday, which saw a 10% drop in crime in the Northumbria Police area in the past year, proved it was possible to police the UK with fewer officers.
But the Northumbria Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, maintains its members are stretched to the limit, and if things continue offences will inevitably rise.
Chairman Gordon Armstrong said: “Crime is not going to go away and the austerity is set to continue.
“If officer numbers do decrease, it will not surprise me if we do see crime rise this year.”
Northumbria Police have seen full-time police officer numbers drop from 3,921 in March 2012 to 3,750 in March 2013, a cut of 171. Similarly Cleveland Police went from 1,529 to 1,463, while Durham lost just one officer in the year to stand at 1,362.
Nationally, Home Office data shows the number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen for the fourth consecutive year – by 3.4% or 4,516 – taking the total to its lowest level since 2002.
However, the Prime Minister argued his Government had made policing more efficient and helped bring crime down to its lowest levels in a generation.
He told The Journal: “Crime is falling.
“It’s falling in Newcastle and it’s falling across the country.
“Your streets, houses and businesses are the safest they’ve been in a generation and are proof that our reforms are working.
“We’ve slashed the out-of-control bureaucracy that has seen police officers spending nearly half their shifts doing paperwork. We’ve scrapped all the targets and given police a single, core objective – to cut crime.
“The police have risen to the challenge of doing more with less and they must be congratulated.”
Mr Armstrong, however, credited the fall in crime to the sheer hard work officers put in to make the streets safer.
And he warned that they would struggle to cope with any further cuts.
“Any reductions in crime in Northumbria are down to the commitment and dedication of the police officers.
“They have shown total professionalism,” he said, “but the cuts are still not at an end, and officers tell me they are stretched to the limit.”
Northumbria has to make the second-highest budget savings under the Government’s austerity programme. And the force will need to shave 24% off the budget that it had in the financial year 2010/11.
It is planning to make about 35% of savings from areas away from cutting jobs.
But it will also cut its workforce by more than 20%, with a 16% drop in frontline staff by March 2015.
Mr Armstrong argued that it is impossible to know whether the decreases in crime reflected in yesterday’s figures are accurate.
But he added it was possible that some incidents were not recorded because there were fewer officers to report them to.
“These figures will never show where people have not reported a crime because there hasn’t been a police officer available on the streets,” he said.
“If police officers are not there, crime will not be reported at that time.”
Crime almost halves in seven years
Crime continues to fall in the region, according to the latest figures.
But more people are becoming victims of pick-pockets and thieves in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.
The Home Office annual figures released yesterday show crime in the Northumbria Police area is continuing to go down, with 67,574 offences recorded in 2012/13 compared with 75,266 the previous year.
This is almost a drop of 50% compared with 2005/06 when there were 132,000 offences.
Violence against the person has fallen by 10%, sexual offences have fallen by 13% and robbery is down by 11%.
Drug offences, which rose slightly the previous year, are also down by 10%.
But theft from a person has increased by 5%.
Chief Constable Sue Sim said: “We are continuing to deliver real and significant reductions in crime – which means thousands fewer victims and thousands more families feeling safe in their homes and on our streets.
“This ongoing reduction would not happen without the dedication of all Northumbria Police employees, our partners across the region and most importantly, the people in our communities who continue to back their local police force.
“Neighbourhood policing remains at the heart of everything we do and we regularly ask our communities what their priorities are to ensure we're providing the right service. This is reflected in the level of confidence the public have in our force and we must strive to keep this high over the next 12 months.”
Durham Constabulary’s area has seen the third-biggest overall drop in crime, with incidents down by 15% in 2012/13 compared with 2011/12
But there has been a 6% increase in robbery in the county.
Bucking national trends, sexual offences in Durham have dropped by 15% and theft has dropped by 17%.
Across England and Wales, reported rapes increased by 2% in the past year, with the increase thought to be linked to the knock-on effect of the Jimmy Savile investigation.
Fraud has also soared by 27% , though overall crime was down by 9% on last year – the lowest level since the Crime Survey for England and Wales began in 1981, the Office for National Statistics said.