Police Officer Numbers At Five Year Low
2 August 2016, 17:15
A drop in police officer numbers is "alarming'', according to the organisation representing rank and file officers.
Police numbers fell to their lowest level for more than five years between April and June.
New figures show there were 17,242 full-time equivalent officers in the second quarter of the year - the lowest number since the final three months of 2010 when there were 17,217.
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) representing officers, said the statistics are another sign that policing is at "breaking point'', while Scottish Labour said many people will worry the figures are "an indication of what is to come''.
Police Scotland said the figures were a snapshot in time, with numbers fluctuating due to recruitments, retirements and other factors.
Numbers remain well above 2007 levels, despite the SNP dropping its pledge to maintain 1,000 extra officers earlier this year.
The target was a key SNP commitment for nine years, and kept police numbers just above 17,234, measured against the March 2007 figure of 16,234.
Mr Docherty said: "At a time when police demand continues to rise and public satisfaction is falling, this is the greatest example yet that finance is being put ahead of public safety.
"Police officers are under intolerable pressure, they are working longer and harder than ever before.
"Fewer police officers is just another sign that policing in Scotland is at breaking point.''
Scottish Labour's justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said: "Considering the significant pressures being placed on Police Scotland's budget, many will worry that these statistics are an indication of what is to come. This cannot be allowed to happen.''
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross said: "We need to establish whether this drop in numbers is down to shifting priorities for the police, or a wholesale downscaling of resources.''
A Police Scotland spokesman said: "These figures are a snapshot in time and change on a daily basis through recruitments, retirements and other factors.
"Police Scotland is committed to maintaining police numbers in a way that ensures we can provide the right policing resources in the right places at the right time to meet the demands of modern policing.''
Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said: "This Government is dedicated to protecting local communities through effective policing and with recorded crime at a 41-year low, Scotland is as safe as it has been for over a generation.
"This reduction in crime levels is supported by continued high numbers of police in Scotland's communities, and I am very pleased to note that numbers remain well in excess of those in 2007.
"Scotland's police officers and staff work incredibly hard to serve our communities, tackling violence and crime.
"We will continue to work with Police Scotland to support them by considering the implications of changing demands on Scottish policing and ensuring the right mix of officers and specialist staff to provide protection for Scotland's communities.''
A Police Scotland spokesman said: "Police Scotland seeks to provide the right policing resources in the right places for all the communities we serve, with around 75% of police officers currently aligned to local policing.
"We place a high priority on localism with officers serving in local policing to respond to the needs of our communities.
"Our local officers are supported by specialist services where needed, providing national support to meet local demand. The deployment of resources is constantly under review.''