Police cut 5,261 emergency 999 officers, say Labour
The government is "irresponsible" for cutting the number of police dealing with 999 emergencies, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has said.
Figures compiled from all 43 police forces in England and Wales showed a fall last year of 5,261 in first responder officer numbers, Labour says.
The Home Office said it did not recognise the "unofficial" figures.
And policing minister Nick Herbert said it was "quite wrong" to suggest a fall in emergency police responsiveness.
First responders deal with emergency calls, attend traffic accidents and are first on the scene of crime or disorder.
Labour compiled the figures from Freedom of Information requests made to the 43 forces.
The forces which appear to have had the biggest drop in first responder numbers include Devon and Cornwall, which lost 540 first responders - 25% of its total - between March 2010 and last December, and West Midlands, which lost 1,023 - 19%.
A Labour spokesman said the figures it obtained were from 31 March 2010 to the latest ones available. Of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, forces, 23 supplied data both up to 31 March 2011 and also 31 December 2011.
The remaining forces supplied figures only up to 31 March 2011.
The government is cutting central government funding to police in England and Wales by 20% over five years, as a result of the 2010 Spending Review.
The Inspectorate of Constabulary has predicted there would be 16,000 fewer officers by 2015 than there were in 2010, as a result of budget cuts.
Ms Cooper said the "steep fall" in the teams who respond to 999 calls "just goes to show how damaging it is for the government to cut 16,000 police officers".
She added: "We have consistently said the government needs to change course, and that front-line services are being hit by the 20% cut to police funding.
"The evidence is stacked against the government and against their bogus claims about protecting front line policing.
"Whether it is 'visible' or 'front-line' policing, however the government want to phrase it, Theresa May and David Cameron's decision to cut 16,000 police officers is causing huge damage to police forces, and it is communities who will ultimately pay the price."
Speaking to told Sky News Murnaghan, Mr Herbert dismissed the claims about cuts, saying "the inconvenient truth for Labour is that crime is falling".
He also said he did not recognise the figures, and was waiting for "the official audited figures to come out, and the report from the independent Inspectorate of Constabulary".
He added: "Labour is signed up to the same level of cuts. Their programme too would mean a smaller workforce.
"It is shameful hypocrisy of Labour to be campaigning against this... the percentage of police officers working on the front line is actually increasing".
He also said the government was protecting the front line, and that the debate was not all about the "raw numbers".
He said: "I really think it is appalling actually to suggest to people, and clearly Labour are scaremongering here, that somehow if you dial 999, you are not going to get the same response from police. Where is the evidence for that?
"What we are saying is that it is quite possible to reduce budgets, to look at again at how officers are deployed, to deal with the fact that there is this very large number in behind-the-scenes functions - that is actually too big a number - and make sure we are redeploying effectively and protecting the front-line service."
A Home Office spokesman said: "These are not official figures and we don't recognise them.
"The reality is, independent reports have shown police can reduce costs while protecting the front line, and according to official statistics and police plans the proportion of officers on the front line is rising.
"We've reversed the policies of the past to get police out of back-office roles and back on the streets.
"Official figures show since March 2010 we've seen 500 more officers on the front line as work is done across all 43 forces to reduce the more than 23,500 warranted police officers in backroom posts."
Figures from 30 September 2011 showthere were 136,261 full-time police officers across all the forces in England and Wales - 6,012 fewer than the 141,850 of a year earlier, and the lowest number for a decade.
Home Secretary Theresa May has suggested forces could protect "front-line policing" by delegating some work to the private sector.