Boris Johnson pledged that his government would begin recruiting 20,000 more police officers in September, reversing a decade of cuts to policing.
The new prime minister said he hoped to complete recruitment within the next three years, with a national campaign led by the Home Office, and to create a new policing board.
“People went to see more officers in their neighbourhoods, protecting the public and cutting crime,” Mr Johnson said. “I promised 20,000 extra officers and that recruitment will now start in earnest.”
The move was welcomed as an “opportunity” and a “challenge” by the College of Policing, while Martin Hewitt, who chairs the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the recruitment drive would “ease the pressure” on officers while improving outcomes for victims.
Newly appointed home secretary Priti Patel met police officers in Birmingham with Mr Johnson on Friday, and described a recent rise in serious violence as “deeply worrying”.
She said the pledge for additional officers “sends a clear message that we are committed to giving police the resources they need to tackle the scourge of crime”.
The recruitment drive will reverse cuts to policing by successive Conservative governments that have seen funding to police forces in England and Wales reduced by one-fifth since March 2010, with losses of more than 20,000 officers.
The pledge is projected to cost around £1bn — money Mr Johnson had previously said would be found through raiding the “fiscal headroom” of former chancellor Philip Hammond, which was intended to soften the blow of a no-deal Brexit.
Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh said that after experienced officers had been lost, the “U-turn” showed that cuts to policing had been “utterly needless”.
Mr Johnson had promised to increase police numbers during the Conservative leadership race earlier this month, appealing to party members concerned with law and order but drawing scepticism from some experts.
Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, said earlier this month that spending on “more people” would “not be the most effective way” of bettering law and order.
“You have to invest to be more efficient and that will cost more money,” he said. “Not all of that money should be spent on hiring people. Some of that money should be spent on technology.”
Mr Johnson’s office has also announced the urgent review of a pilot project that makes it easier to use stop and search powers, with a view to a nationwide rollout.
To oversee the changes, the government will set out plans for a police board, to be chaired by the home secretary.
“This is the start of a new relationship between the government and the police working even more closely together to protect the public,” said Ms Patel.