More than 1,100 police and community support officers are being funded with millions of pounds contributed by residents, schools, councils and shopping centres, The Telegraph can disclose.
Police forces’ coffers are being bolstered by more than £20 million a year in additional cash from external sources, over and above the main taxpayer funding from the Government and council tax bills.
Figures published for the first time today showed 1,120 officers were paid for by extra contributions – equivalent to the size of a county police force.
The true national total for England and Wales will be far higher because only 20 out of 43 forces provided data.
One Home Counties parish council which charges each household an extra £7 a year on average said it introduced the surcharge because they rarely saw a police officer.
Another in Yorkshire – where the chairman of the parish council said he feared rates would have to rise next year due to rising police costs – said they had no choice but to pay for their own PCSO because there would never be a policing presence in the village without it.
The new figures emerge after wealthy residents of a Hampshire village offered to pay £60,000 a year between them after their local beat bobby faced the axe under spending cuts.
Parish councillors in Upton Grey and The Candovers said in October they would pay the sum if Pc Andy Reid was retained as their dedicated officer – but the offer was rejected on the grounds it would create a “two tier” police service.
Analysis of figures obtained by The Telegraph under freedom of information laws showed nearly half the forces in England and Wales have no such qualms, however.
At least 34 parish councils pay for a local officer to patrol their area, though the true figure will be much higher because several forces failed to provide a detailed break-down of spending.
The biggest user of private contributions is West Yorkshire police, where 132 police officers and 450 PCSOs – 80 per cent of the total – are funded by money from town halls and other organisations in this year’s budget.
The force received just over £3 million in these extra contributions.
Kent Police received the most in monetary terms – £3.67 million to pay for more than 51 officers – but the bulk of this was from the Channel Tunnel which under law must pay for officers to police the link to the Continent.
Avon and Somerset received £2.1 million for 50 officers.
Apart from West Yorkshire, other forces with large numbers of privately-funded officers were Lancashire, with 141, and Cheshire, with 120.
Bluewater shopping centre in Kent handed the local force £563,000 this year to pay for a team of nine constables and two sergeants.
Despite its objection to the private funding of Pc Reid, it can now be disclosed that Hampshire Police has allowed 11 parish councils to contribute more than £94,000 a year between them to pay for three PCSOs.
The same force also received nearly £250,000 from other sources to fund police officers and other PCSOs.
At least seven forces did not receive any money from external sources.
The overall total of 1,120 privately-funded officers and PCSOs is equivalent to the size of a small county police force. For example, Suffolk has 1,147 officers, Cumbria has 1,143 and Bedfordshire 1,073.
Andy Cattle, chairman of Drighlington parish council in West Yorkshire, which pays £9,000 a year for a one-third share in a PCSO, said: “Obviously we’d rather it was funded through central taxes but sadly that’s not the case and if we didn’t pay we’d never see the police in the village.
“We spend a significant part of our budget on this and the price is going up in January, so there’s no doubt we’ll have to increase the precept next year.”
Linda Smith, of Chalfont St Peter parish council in Bucks, which pays Thames Valley Police just under £17,000 a year, said: “The PCSOs are an integral part of our community here.”
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: “Residents will wonder whether these additional costs mean they are paying twice for police officers to operate in their local community.
“However, if these payments allow forces to make savings then they should be more open about them so that taxpayers can decide for themselves whether they are getting value for their hard-earned money.
“When discussions over policing budgets are being had it is important to remember this significant additional revenue stream, that puts pressure on centrally allocated grants into a little more context.”
The Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police force, refused to supply information along with Devon and Cornwall, Norfolk and Suffolk.