Every police force in England and Wales is preparing for major budget cuts over the next five years, according to research by the BBC.
All of the forces are facing individual cuts of 5% in funding for the next financial year, as well as further cuts after the general election. Several forces have plans to making savings by reducing their numbers of officers.
Police chiefs are concerned that the wider community is not aware of the size of the cuts and their implications.
Gwent's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Ian Johnston stated that the scale of planned cuts has not "been understood by the public or politicians". Gwent's force is looking at a deficit of £18.9m by 2018/19.
Several PCCs have revealed their forecasts of cuts due to 2019 or 2020. Kent expects a £61m cut over the next four years, while South Yorkshire anticipates £49m between its 2016/17 and 2019/20 financial years.
These expected cuts are on top of the 20% cut to Home Office funding. And they're unlikely to be the last, as police forces anticipate further substantial cuts in future financial years.
A key factor to the seriousness of the cuts will be the result of May's general election.
Home Secretary Theresa May has stated that there will be further reductions if the Conservatives win. She believes that integrating all three emergency services – police, fire and ambulance – might yield economies of scale.
Former policing minister Damian Green says forces can do more to make savings.
"We've only actually scratched the surface with what can be done both with reorganisation and with technology," he said. Meanwhile, Labour says the police can make significant savings on procurement of equipment, IT and other services.
A substantial amount of the cuts could be mitigated by increases in council tax. UK police forces are able to increase their share of council tax – the police precept – without council approval. This is little-known aspect of local taxation that is likely to come into sharp focus over the coming months.
No less than 34 PCCs are planning to increase of the precept – the portion of council tax reserved for policing – over the coming year.
PCCs in England who wish to raise the precept by 2% or more must hold a referendum. One PCC, Bedfordshire's PCC Olly Martins, is already planning a referendum, to take place during the general election voting on 7 May.