Police forces struggling to attract new recruits

Research suggests jobseeker interest in policing has fallen by a fifth in two years, threatening government plans to hire an extra 20,000 officers

Jobseeker interest in working for the police has “plunged” in the past two years with a dramatic fall in the last six months, suggesting that recruiting on a large scale as promised by the government would be difficult, according to a new report. 

Analysis by job site Indeed found the number of people searching for police jobs across the UK fell by almost a fifth (19 per cent) since 2017, and slumped by a quarter (25 per cent) since December last year.

This comes as new prime minister Boris Johnson recently pledged to recruit 20,000 police officers across England and Wales.

Johnson said he wanted the recruitment – which will be overseen by a new national policing board – to start immediately and be completed over the next three years.

But the research by Indeed indicated that a lack of willing recruits could make this target difficult to achieve.

Its analysis of recent Home Office figures found there are currently 123,171 police officers in England and Wales, meaning the new government target is a 16 per cent increase on existing levels.

According to its website data, the Lancashire force experienced the steepest decline in searches for police jobs, with a 29 per cent fall in jobseeker interest in the past two years, followed by the West Midlands force, which fell by 27 per cent. The Metropolitan Police, which is England’s largest force, has dropped by 12 per cent since 2017.

Bill Richards, UK managing director at Indeed, said finding an extra 20,000 police officers “would be a challenge at any time”, but it is likely to be even tougher with UK unemployment at its lowest level in more than four decades at 3.8 per cent.

He highlighted that all employers, including those in the public sector like police forces, would need to focus on “selling the full range of benefits” their business brings to win recruits.

“While it can be a challenging job with long and antisocial hours, police officers enjoy a unique sense of social responsibility, trust and respect as well as a relatively attractive pension,” Richards said. 

“But with our data suggesting some jobseekers may need some convincing, it remains to be seen if the government’s high-profile plan to boost the police ranks will spark a renewed wave of jobseeker interest.”

The analysis of government figures also showed that, despite a small increase of 766 officers over the last 12 months, police numbers have declined steadily since 2010. Last year saw the lowest police officer level since 1981, and there has been a net drop of 20,597 police officers across England and Wales over the past decade.

But Ché Donald, national vice chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, questioned the validity of the Indeed analysis, pointing out that police recruitment was very specialised and a jobs board like Indeed would not necessarily be the first place that potential officers would look for job information.

Donald was also optimistic that Johnson’s pledge would reinvigorate recruitment campaigns as forces attempt to recoup the numbers of officers they lost owing to cuts in recruitment. 

“Policing is truly a job like no other and there is no feeling like it when you know that your actions have made a difference – be that by catching a criminal, protecting the vulnerable or just being there at the right time,” Donald said.

“I am sure there are still more than enough people who want to make a real difference to their communities by taking on this uniquely rewarding career.”

Senior police chiefs are also considering additional ways of retaining officers, including offering pension incentives to retain police officers about to retire, The Telegraph has reported.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council is now considering rolling out the scheme, initially pioneered by the Met, to other forces.

Rather than retiring, the Met offered officers the chance to return to their posts at the same rank and salary in addition to being able to draw a lump sum from their pension. 

Before, officers would have been penalised for drawing from their pension pot if they stayed in employment beyond 30 years, but the Met scheme allows them to return and take the pension contributions as extra pay or an open additional personal pension. 

It is projected that this scheme would retain a portion of the 6,000 police officers who quit or retire every year.