Scottish police officer numbers hit 'record high'

image captionThe Scottish government has promised to keep up funding to recruit more officers

Police officer numbers in Scotland have reached a record high after more than 300 officers were hired in the past year, according to official figures.

The increase, which brings the total number to 17,409, was welcomed by ministers, who have pledged to deliver 1,000 additional officers.

The figures came after a row over whether civil servants were trying to "call the shots" on police funding.

Opposition parties said numbers must be maintained in the long-term.

The Scottish government-published figures, which cover the eight main police forces, said officer numbers increased by 136 in the last quarter and by 361 in the last year.

Numbers in the Lothian and Borders Police force area also exceeded 3,000 for the first time.

'Fewer cops'

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the government was providing record levels of police funding, while recorded crime was at a near 30-year low.

"The Scottish government pledged to deliver a more visible police presence in our communities which is why we committed ourselves to increasing the number of police officers by 1,000 by the end of this parliament," he said.

But Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker called for an independent forecast of police numbers, adding: "Kenny MacAskill keeps boasting about police numbers, but, as we have continually warned, it's no good increasing numbers unless those numbers are maintained.

"The SNP have cut support staff by over 1,000, meaning fewer cops on the beat."

The Tories' John Lamont, added: "The next few years are about priorities. For the Conservatives, the hard won battle to secure 1,000 extra police is not one we will abandon. Public safety must remain a top priority."

For the Liberal Democrats, Robert Brown said: "It is still not clear how much Kenny MacAskill has tried to gerrymander these figures ahead of an election, nor indeed whether police budgets are able to keep numbers at this level."

Last month, Mr MacAskill was forced to address the issue of police funding at parliament, in the wake of claims by Grampian Police Chief Constable Colin McKerracher that he was told by civil servants that cash would be withheld if forces missed targets to maintain increased levels of officers.

The justice secretary said specific funding was being provided to increase police numbers and, had allocated cash for an extra 801 officers up to the end of March, with funding for 2010-11 to take on a further 201.

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