More than 500 fewer police officers are fighting crime on the streets of South Yorkshire now compared to eight years ago, The Star can reveal.
Over the last decade, the number of bobbies in the county has dropped from 3,216 to just 2,796, according to figures published today under The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign.
In 2005, the number of officers stood at a high of 3,338 – 520 more than today’s figure.
But at the same time the number of civilian staff employed by South Yorkshire Police has risen more than four-fold – from 588 to 2,645, with a high of 2,896 in 2008.
Neil Bowles, chairman of the South Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation which represents rank and file officers, described the figures as ‘absolutely shocking’.
He said he fears for the safety of officers now routinely working alone and claimed staff sickness is on the up.
Mr Bowles, a police officer for 26 years, said bobbies used to ‘routinely work double crewed’ but said working alone is now ‘the norm’.
“These are absolutely shocking figures and the public won’t want to see them – they want to see more officers on the streets,” he said.
“We recently had an officer who responded to a job alone and he was severely beaten. If we can’t protect ourselves, how can we expect to protect the public?”
Mr Bowles said officers are struggling to cope with increased work.
“The reduction in numbers has led to longer hours, more fatigue, and more pressure for those left to pick up the pieces,” he said.
“Sickness rates are also starting to increase, so it is a vicious circle.
“Workloads have increased and plans to reduce overtime to save costs have not come to fruition - you can’t just down tools at the end of a shift, you have to see your job through to the end.”
A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman admitted the force ‘continues to face challenges during this period of austerity’.
But she added: “The public should be reassured recorded crime in South Yorkshire is at its lowest level for 23 years.
“The Chief Constable is committed to retaining frontline police officer numbers – and South Yorkshire Police is recruiting an extra 110 police officers during this financial year.”