Almost every police force in England and Wales has stopped recruiting officers as they seek to cope with deep spending cuts, according to research by Labour.
A survey of police recruitment websites and hotlines showed that 42 of the 43 police forces had shut their doors to new recruits, shadow home secretary Ed Balls said.
Several police forces state on their websites that the recruitment freeze is a direct result of the comprehensive spending review, which outlined cuts in police funding from central government of 20% over four years.
Only Surrey continues to advertise for Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).
Labour raised concerns that police officers who retired or resigned – usually about 6,000 a year – would not be replaced.
Mr Balls said: “This is an early sign that the spending review will hit frontline policing hard. Around 6,000 police officers retire or resign each year, but if deep cuts mean they can’t be replaced with new recruits then I fear we’re going to see the thin blue line stretched to breaking point.
“The Home Secretary’s claims that the cuts will not affect frontline policing are becoming more laughable by the day.”
Policing Minister Nick Herbert claimed there was no link between police numbers and crime levels – a remark Labour described as “astonishing”.
“I don’t think that any respectable academic would make a simple link between the increase in the numbers of police officers and what’s happened in crime,” Mr Herbert told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend. “There’s no such link.”
The minister later insisted it was possible to reduce spending on police while still maintaining visibility on the streets. Aides stressed that moves to scrap stop-and-account forms, change stop-and-search forms and give officers more discretion over charging would save police time.