Former West Midlands Police officers might have to be lured out of retirement to plug a staff shortage expected during the 2012 Olympic Games, senior officials have admitted.
The combination of the massive security threat posed by the Games, an expected downturn in police numbers following a "recruitment bulge", and increased pressure on specialists has left the force looking to find ways to cover the staffing gap.
Although the 2012 Olympics will be hosted by London, Birmingham is expected to stage events including football matches at Villa Park which would bring tens of thousands of fans to the city.
It is also expected to be a base for one or more countries’ training camps, which could pose policing problems, particularly for nations like Israel needing higher levels of security. Birmingham City Council has already arranged a deal to bring the USA track and field team to the city.
Local forces are committed to lending officers to the Metropolitan Police in London for the Games, placing even more pressure on the Midlands.
West Midlands Chief Constable Sir Paul Scott-Lee said the political tensions surrounding the Olympics could mean local coverage might come under pressure as police officers were taken off normal duty.
"The local abstractions will depend to a very, very great extent on the state of the world and the state of the threat that brings at the time," he told the region’s police authority.
"It will also be affected by which teams choose to domicile themselves in the West Midlands. My hope will be that in terms of local policing they will be our least abstracted.
"My worry is that middle tier of policing, because part of the time they are doing local policing and part of the time they would be doing big events like the football matches."
He also described as "very significant" a police recruitment surge about three decades ago, when pay and working conditions were improved, which meant many officers were due to retire in the next few years.
Sir Paul added: "Can we foresee a new way of asking these officers to stay on? No we can’t. Perhaps this is a Games where sworn officers’ role will be supplemented to a degree by supporting staff and retired police officers.
"The ability of some other forces to be able to maintain the experts is going to be diminished. So this is going to be a real challenge."
Authority member and Wolverhampton councillor Bob Jones said he wanted to know where the funding for the extra policing would come from, and said he was worried there was no business case from the police yet.
He also expressed worries over the numbers of specialists available for 2012, saying there had been problems at the G8 summit meeting in Birmingham.
"At the G8 there was a real issue of the over-estimation of capacity because many of the smaller forces ‘double hat’ these positions. That does mean forces like the West Midlands have to take a disproportionate burden for that support.
"Along with the end of the recruitment bulge, I’m slightly worried about whether we will have the capacity."
Along with the need to provide officers to the Metropolitan Police, the procession of the Olympic torch leading up to the Games was identified as a key point for the police.
The torch is likely to pass through Birmingham, and has been a huge source of controversy and protest in the run-up to this year’s Beijing Olympics.
Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Hyde, who is leading the force’s preparations for the Olympics, said talks were continuing with other forces but he was confident West Midlands Police would be able to cope.
He said: "We can’t predict at this stage what political difficulties we will have but it would be naive of us to think there will not be some.
"We have had some discussion with the Met, but we don’t have hard and fast numbers of how many we will be asked for.
"A lot more will become clear after the Beijing Olympics, and then we can start some very detailed planning."