AROUND two-thirds of Wales' police workforce are classed as being on the frontline, an independent policing body reveals today.
A report by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary surveyed the public and police representatives about what they thought constituted frontline work to come up with a definition of what roles should be included.
However, while 68% of staff in England and Wales were viewed as being on the frontline, an average of just 12% were available and visible to the public at key times. Forces in Wales tended to fare better with the proportion of staff available at 9am on a Monday, 7pm on a Wednesday and 12.30am on a Saturday, with Gwent managing 16%, the third highest in England and Wales, and South Wales and Dyfed-Powys with 14.2%.
North Wales Police lagged behind with 10.8% available.
Commenting on the levels of officer availability, Gwent Police Assistant Chief Constable Simon Prince said: "What we've done is we've matched demand from the public. We've changed our shift structure so officers are working at the times of highest demand."
He said it was important to remember that while many staff were not visible to the public they were still working to protect them.
North Wales Police was unavailable for comment.
The study is the first to come up with a definition of frontline at a time when forces are facing cuts and under pressure from the public not to cut frontline staff.
The inspectorate said frontline means "those in everyday contact with the public and who directly intervene to keep people safe and enforce the law", and included roles such as CID, custody officers, neighbourhood officers and fingerprint and scenes-of-crime jobs.
The public did not view finance directors and people who file statements or analyse crime data to find trends as frontline.
Steve Williams, the Police Federation's Welsh secretary, said past cost savings and a drive to turn certain roles over to civilians meant there were very few officers performing backroom roles and where officers were in roles that were not visible to the public they were still working to tackle crime.
Mr Williams said with forces facing 20% cuts in finances, there was a need for a public debate about what service the police should provide.
On the subject of cuts to come, Mr Prince said the force was committed to providing visible and effective local policing and cuts to bureaucracy would help it continue to provide that.
Sir Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, also stressed that in middle or back office staff were key and ensured frontline duties were properly carried out.