Comparing police numbers to pre-austerity levels is not “terribly helpful”, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has said.

Mrs Bourne was speaking during a meeting of the Sussex Police and Crime Panel on Friday (June 25), during a presentation on her office’s performance during the past year.

In her report, Mrs Bourne confirmed the force had been able to recruit an additional 179 officers during 2020/21. This included 129 officers from the government’s uplift funding, plus 50 from the increased police precept.

In light of this, West Sussex county councillor James Walsh (Lib Dem) asked if this recruitment drive had seen the force return to “pre-cuts” numbers.

Mrs Bourne said: “I think we have to move on. I came into office in 2012 – that was nine years ago – and austerity was a while ago.

“What I think we need to look at now is the officers we have [and] how we are utilising them. Are they being as effective as they can be?

“Certainly officers now have Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs), which they didn’t have when I first came into office. The smart phones to you and I. There is a lot more that technology enables for these officers as well. 

“I don’t think it is terribly helpful to keep looking back 10 years ago. Let’s look forwards on that.”

This answer did not appear to satisfy Dr Walsh, however, who said: “With respect, I wasn’t asking about the performance, I was asking about the numbers, at the pre-cuts levels and have we got back to that level.

“I’m not asking about performance, I am asking about the numbers and the establishment.”

Mrs Bourne responded: “When you say pre-cut level, when do you want to go back to? 1890 when the police were established, 1910, 1930?”

Dr Walsh asked for the figures from when Mrs Bourne first took office in 2012. 

While the figures were not available during the meeting, data from the House of Commons Library shows Sussex Police had the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) of 2,959 officers, as of March 31, 2012.

As of the 31st of March 2020, the force had the FTE of 2,717 officers, although it is unclear what effect the most recent recruitments will have had on this figure.

The data, which goes back to 2003, shows that at its height (in 2010) the force had an FTE strength of 3,213. This fell year-on-year until 2018, when the force’s FTE strength was 2,549, before beginning to increase again.

As a caveat, this data includes officers who are employed by Sussex Police but who may not be available for active duty.

Later in the meeting, Mrs Bourne spoke more about mobile data terminals saying new abilities had been added to the devices in the last year. These included the ability to take fingerprints. 

More generally, these devices allow officers to access information and fill in forms while out on beat.

Mrs Bourne said the devices had been particularly helpful during the last year, as they had allowed officers to access to the most up-to-date Public Health guidance and information on restrictions with respect to Covid-19. They also granted officers the ability to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches of coronavirus regulations.