More than 70,000 people applied to become police officers in the first six months of the Government’s recruitment drive.
An estimated 78,000 applications were submitted between October and May for roles in forces across England and Wales as part of efforts to sign up 20,000 more officers over the next three years, according to Home Office estimates.
The majority (over 70,000) were submitted by April – within the first six months of the campaign – according to the department’s provisional data provided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
The news comes as some forces saw a spike in applications at the height of the coronavirus outbreak.
West Midlands Police, the second largest force in the country, saw an estimated 75% increase in applications in one week.
Before the pandemic, the force said it typically saw an average of around 140 applications a week – and this shot up to around 240 applications for the first week of April.
Many of the new recruits are already out patrolling the streets, either as part of their training or having completed the course.
Two of the trainee officers who spoke to the PA news agency were undeterred by starting out in a new career during the pandemic, both telling of their life-long ambition to join the police.
Former plant nursery manager Verity Steele, who joined Staffordshire Police to take on her dream job after becoming a mother, said she was taking “sensible precautions” at work and thinks the circumstances will help prepare her for what lies ahead.
The 40-year-old, who is originally from Essex but now lives near Stoke-on-Trent and has been “hooked” on joining the police from a young age, said: “It’s not how I would have necessarily chosen to start my police career but then again who could have predicted a pandemic.
“I don’t know any different.”
Irfan Shafiq, who left his family’s taxi firm to work for West Midlands Police and is now responding to 999 calls in Birmingham, said: “I’m seeing people on a daily basis while on the job saying thank you.
“It’s good to see everybody appreciate what frontline key workers are doing, especially during this pandemic.”
The 30-year-old, who was born and raised in Cradley Heath, said taking the job is “without a doubt” the best thing he has ever done.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “These new officers are truly inspiring and I’m delighted to see that the first of our planned 20,000 recruits are already helping to control the spread of the virus and save lives.
“Getting more officers on the streets to keep us all safe is an absolute priority for the British people and there’s never been a better time to join the police.
“If you want to make a difference, I would encourage you to apply.”
Crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said that it was “critical” to use the recruitment drive as an opportunity to make “radical progress” on diversity in policing.
“It’s been a challenge for policing for some time,” he told Times Radio Breakfast.
“Twenty years ago, only just over 2% of police officers were from a BAME background, we’re now up to just short of 7%, and we want to make a big step forward with these 20,000 into even more progress.
“Similarly with the balance of gender. Ten years ago at 25%, we’re now up to 30% of police officers are female.
“We want to use this to move forward and we’re seeing good progress.”
Boris Johnson vowed to swell the police service to more than 140,000 officers by mid-2022 if he was elected Prime Minister.
Police officer numbers in England and Wales have fallen by more than 20,000 since 2009, with a reduction from 144,353 to 122,395 in 2018.
Previously John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said half a million applications would be needed to fill almost 55,000 new and existing police officer posts in order to make the Government’s recruitment drive a success.
But in April, the Home Office said the recruitment programme was “on track” to meet the first year’s target of 6,000 by March 2021 and officers would be in addition to those hired to fill existing roles.
According to the latest official figures, forces hired 3,005 extra officers in the first six months of the recruitment drive – taking the overall provisional headcount of officers in England and Wales 131,596.
This is a 5% rise on March last year, of which the recruitment drive accounts for approximately half, the Home Office report said.
When the first phase of the rollout was announced in October, the department pledged to provide £750 million to support the 43 forces to recruit up the first wave of officers by the end of 2020/21.
This funding would cover all associated costs, including training and kit.
Online assessment centres, among other measures, have been taken in efforts to keep recruitment going during the coronavirus pandemic.