Crime: Police warn of 'Christmas for criminals' if numbers slashed

The Government must wake up to the reality of a "Christmas for criminals" as up to 40,000 police officers could be axed if 25 per cent funding cuts go ahead, the Police Federation said yesterday.

The body, which represents officers in England and Wales, said forces would be left "devastated" and specialist departments – including those involved with child protection and domestic violence – would "disappear" as resources were diverted to calls needing emergency responses.

Paul McKeever, the federation's chairman, warned that the cuts, coupled with Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's desire to see more offenders dealt with in the community rather than with short-term prison sentences, would be a "volatile mix".

"Our officers are telling us the most vulnerable in society will be hit the hardest", he said.

"Those who can protect themselves, will go and protect themselves.

"Those who can't protect themselves will be at greater risk of experiencing anti-social behaviour, violent crime and crime generally.

"We will be delivering a lot less; in fact we'll be stopping delivering in some areas altogether."

He said it would be "Christmas for criminals" and urged the Government to "listen and see sense".

There were already plans for the domestic violence unit of the Northamptonshire force to be absorbed into the major crime unit, effectively depriving the force of those specialist services, he said.

The warning was made as Hampshire Constabulary announced it would axe 1,400 posts, including hundreds of police officers, as it cuts about a fifth of its workforce in a bid to make 70m worth of savings over the next four years.

One national estimate found 60,000 front-line and civilian jobs in the police service would be at risk if the cuts went ahead at 25 per cent.

Mr McKeever said police had been told to prepare for reductions of 25 per cent or more.

He blamed "bad advice" from the Home Office and think-tanks which suggested that big enough savings could be made through efficiencies to justify a 25 per cent cut.

And he warned Police and Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert that it was "time to put aside theory and deal with reality".

He said he hoped the Government would listen "to the gravity of what they will be facing" and said there were no plans for any protests or marches by officers.

Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the federation, said that with 25 per cent cuts "forces will lose potentially hundreds of officers and nationwide that could be anything up to 40,000 officers within the next two, three or four years".

The Home Office said future funding for the police would be decided by the spending review, which is due to report in October.

A spokesman said the Government's priority was to cut the deficit and get the economy moving again, and added that the police service would need to play its part in achieving that.

Shadow police Minister David Hanson said cutting forces too quickly would create "a real prospect that crime will rise".

"The first priority of any government should be to protect the public and if these cuts are implemented there will be fewer police officers on the beat," he said.

"With Labour crime fell by 43 per cent and this is now being put under threat."

Dave Prentis, general secretary of public services union Unison, said: "Investment in police staff, officers and in neighbourhood policing teams has made a big difference in cutting crime."

"Axing budgets by a quarter will turn back the clock, and will see crime rates soar."

CHIEF IN PLEDGE TO front-line officers

Police chiefs will do all in their power to protect front- line officers, their professional body pledged.

North Yorkshire Police Chief constable Grahame Maxwell, the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) lead for finance and resources, said: "It is incumbent on chief officers to do all in our power to ensure that we protect the front line of the service... this mission is clearly understood and we are fully committed to it.

"However, the reality is that the scale of cuts currently being discussed is so significant that 'protecting the front line' cannot mean 'maintaining the front line at current levels'.