The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by more than 16,000 since the Coalition came to power, official figures have revealed.
There were 128,350 officers at the end of September last year, a fall of nearly 3,500 in a year and the lowest number since September 2002.
Figures over the last four years have fallen by 16,002.
In comparison, the set of annual figures published immediately before the last General Election showed a rise of 2,100 officers.
Latest data – released by the Home Office a day early by mistake – showed the number of community support officers also fell by 859 year-on-year and police staff by 1,300.
Bedfordshire saw the largest fall in police officer numbers in percentage terms, losing 83, a 7.4 per cent drop year-on-year.
The largest decline in headcount was at the Metropolitan Police, which lost 803 officers, or 2.6 per cent.
Only seven forces reported an increase and of those only three saw rises greater than one per cent – Suffolk (2.2 per cent), Northamptonshire (1.8 per cent) and Norfolk (1.6 per cent).
The figures covered the 43 forces in England and Wales and do not include 2,875 officers in British Transport Police – which saw an annual 8.5 per cent rise in numbers – and 386 officers seconded to other duties.
Damian Green, the police minister, said: “Getting the economy back on track has meant the police have had to do more with less, but they have shown an impressive ability to make savings while still cutting crime.
“What matters is how officers are deployed, not how many of them there are.
“Ultimately, decisions on the size and composition of a police force’s workforce are for individual chief officers and police and crime commissioners.”
Jack Dromey, the shadow police minister, said: “The figures mistakenly published today will rightly cause concern in communities all over England and Wales. The Government is hollowing out our police service.”