â€œWe are recruiting 5,000 constables over the next three years and we want Londoners of every background to consider a policing career.â€
Boris Johnson, 30 January 2013
Keeping police numbers up to strength was one of the key commitments in his pre-election manifesto. And last week the mayor was quoted as saying that we can expect 5,000 new recruits to the Met over the rest of his term of office.
That came as something of a surprise because police officer numbers have been falling in London and the Met has a nasty hole in its budget. Is there really a recruitment drive in the offing?
The mayor of Londonâ€™s press office says: â€œThe mayor has pledged to keep police numbers high and has a plan to deliver that which requires recruiting 5,000 new constables over the next three years.
â€œRecruitment was put on hold during the Olympics but unlike many other parts of the country, the Metropolitan Police is now training new officers and numbers will rise again this year.
â€œThe balanced budget we have set out allows us to keep police numbers high at around 32,000 over this term and our reform plans will put more cops into neighbourhoods.â€
SoÂ weâ€™re not talking aboutÂ 5,000 extra constables, but the Met will recruit new PCs to make up for those who leave the force every year through naturally wastage.
Staff turnover in the Met runs at around 5 per cent so they need about 5,000 new recruits in three years to keep the numbers level.
That is what is supposed to happen, anyway.
But Boris has a history of failing to deliver on promises to keep police numbers high.
When heÂ was elected for his first term as mayor in 2008 there were 31,398 warranted police officers in the Met.
Livingstone had budgeted for numbers to rise and they went on to reach a high of 33,404 in November 2009.
The surge came during the first half of Borisâ€™s watch but took place as a result of financial decisions taken by his predecessor.
Now the latest official statistics reveal that there are only 31,163 officers serving in the Met. Thatâ€™s fewer than the total Boris inherited from Ken Livingstone five years ago.
It means London has lost 2,241 officers since November 2009, or an average of 70 cops from every borough under Boris.
The mayorâ€™s long-term commitment is for strength toÂ stay at aroundÂ 32,000 for each of the next three years.
[Note that it's only police officers that are predicted to stay level - the overall Metropolitan Police Service workforce ("total MPS") will stillÂ fall.]
But we know that these targets are not being met.
And in its latest monthly report the Mayorâ€™s Office for Policing and Crime admits: â€œThere are risks around the speed at which the shortfall in officer numbers can be recovered.â€
The Met does have plans to reallocate officers between various functions and restructure the workforce. There are to be more officers deployed in neighbourhood teams, and the numbers of constables will rise, balanced by a cut in the numbers of sergeants and higher ranks.
Does that mean there will be more frontline policing overall?
Not according to the independent police watchdog Her Majestyâ€™s Inspectorate of Constabulary. HMIC thinks the Met will see a smaller proportion of its total workforce on the frontline in 2013 than in 2010.
This isÂ in contrast to the national picture, which suggests that most forces are successfully moving in the other direction.
The final question is whether the Met can really afford to recruit enough newcomers to keep strength on an even keel.
The force has to find Â£232m savings to balance the books by 2014/15. That represents the lionâ€™s share of the national funding shortfall of Â£302m identified by HMIC last year.
Borisâ€™s press team are at a loss to explain where the claim about 5,000 more constables comes from.
It appears to fly in the face of everything we know about Met police recruitment trends.
The reality is that Boris has presided over a significant drop in police strength, and there are now fewer officers than there were when he first became mayor five years ago, even as Londonâ€™s population continues to grow.
Thanks to Patrick Worrall