Rising crime warning over police jobs freeze

Image caption,
The recruitment freeze is being introduced by three Scottish forces

A recruitment freeze among some Scottish police forces will result in a fall in officer numbers and a rise in crime, it has been claimed.

The Scottish Police Federation also said some politicians were "not being totally honest with the Scottish public" over police numbers.

Strathclyde Police is the one of three Scottish forces to announce a vacancy freeze in the face of funding concerns.

The Scottish government said officer numbers were at record levels.

But Strathclyde is the latest Scottish force to announce the freeze due to ongoing uncertainty over its budget, in a move which covers both officers and civilian staff.

It said an intake of 100 probationary officers to the Scottish Police College between August and October will not go ahead.

In January, Northern Constabulary put recruitment on hold before hiring 20 new officers in May. Although the force had no formal freeze policy, recruitment would only take place to maintain current numbers.

Lothian and Borders Police introduced a vacancy freeze in April in response to "looming cuts". A force spokesman said that "the harsh reality is that our organisation must get smaller".

On Tuesday, Strathclyde Police said the recruitment of officers would be suspended after the current intake of 65 probationary officers later this month.

John Gillies, director of human resources for the force, said: "The public sector is facing an unprecedented period of financial challenge and Scottish policing is not going to be immune to that.

"While we don't know exactly the scale of the cuts that we will be facing, early indications are that it could be anywhere up to 10% of our budget in the next financial year. We have to prepare for that.

"We have more or less stopped recruiting police staff over the past few months and today we are formalising that. We also have to be realistic about the number of officers we can afford to recruit at this time of uncertainty."

Mr Gillies said that there had been "a massive expansion in police officer numbers" in the past few years.

Police pledge

He said "protecting these frontline services" would be an "absolute priority" in any future decisions taken.

Strathclyde Police has 8,410 officers paid for out of its own budget and those of other bodies.

However, Scottish Police Federation chairman Les Gray said he was "very disappointed" by the announcements.

He sympathised with chief constables, whom he said were facing "even more severe" cuts to their budgets than they had initially believed.

Mr Gray claimed that some politicians were "not being totally honest with the Scottish public" over police numbers, which he said would inevitably fall if officers who retired or left the force were not replaced.

He added: "Quite clearly evidence shows that when police numbers fall, crime will rise - people will become the victims of crime, there will be more fear of crime, and without wishing to be melodramatic some people may even lose their life.

"The police service isn't like the public sector per se. We are unique from the point of view that we are out there saving lives and preventing crime.

"I would not like to be the police officer that has to go to somebody's home to tell them that their son or daughter seriously assaulted, sexually assaulted, raped or murdered and have to explain to them that there wasn't a police presence there."

A Scottish government spokesman said the force's recruitment of additional officers in recent years had been "impressive" despite spending cuts from Westminster.

"We have already delivered a record number of police officers in Scotland - a total of 17,409 - and our 1,000 additional police officers pledge by the end of this parliament has been met ahead of schedule, with 1,175 more officers now compared to March 2007," he said.

"This pledge remains absolutely on track - despite the spending cuts of the previous and present UK government at Westminster - which is a fantastic achievement delivered by the police and Scottish government working in partnership."

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour has called for a public statement from Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and repeated calls for him to publish an independent projection study on police numbers.

The Scottish Conservatives urged Strathclyde Police to do all it could to retain front line officers but said the need for savings was inevitable in light of "Labour's massive debt legacy".

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