Up to 40,000 front-line police jobs 'at risk'
As many as 40,000 front-line police jobs will be at risk in England and Wales if expected budget cuts of 25% go ahead, the Police Federation has said.
The Police Federation is warning that cuts on this scale could lead to an increase in crime.
Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert has called on them to avoid scaremongering.
But the union said such a staffing reduction would make policing as it is now "unsustainable".
The cut to the police budget in England and Wales is generally expected to total 25% - in line with other government cutbacks - but the exact level will not be known until the current spending review is published in October.
Two weeks ago the Scottish Police Federation predicted that budget cuts north of the border would lead to a loss of 2,800 posts.
Mr Herbert told the BBC that the Police Federation was simply speculating at this stage.
"We do have to be careful not to make assumptions and then to follow on from that with suggestions that may unnecessarily alarm the public," he said.
"Very large sums of money are still going to be made available to policing.
"Of course there will have to be savings, we have been quite clear about that."
He added that while police forces will have to find their share of savings, the government believed they could be found, "particularly in regard to police forces working more efficiently, savings in the back room, and forces collaborating on procuring equipment".
'Christmas for criminals'
The Police Federation's warning came after Hampshire Constabulary said it planned to axe 1,400 posts - 20% of its workforce - including police officers.
Figures from the federation also showed that the West Midlands force could lose up to 1,000 officers as it makes cuts of £140m.
The data also indicated that Greater Manchester had already lost 221 officers since last December and North Wales would lose 251 in the next four years.
Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation, said it would be "Christmas for criminals" if a 25% cut to the police budget in England and Wales went ahead.
He added that in addition to losing front-line staff, specialist departments such as those involved in child protection and domestic violence may have to be disbanded.
"Crime is at the lowest level it has ever been in the last 30 years, I think it would be a dreadful shame if we threw that away now," he said.
"We agree we have to take cuts, but not to the level the government is talking about."
Mr McKeever added that Home Secretary Theresa May had been badly advised by people who "did not understand" the reality of the cuts.
He called on her to fight the case for the police budget to be reduced by a much lesser amount.
Labour's home affair's spokesman, David Hanson, said a 25% cut to police funding would be too much.
He said it was putting the number of front-line police officers "at risk".
Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, from the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the scale of the budget cuts police forces were facing made front-line job cuts inevitable.
He said: "The reality is that the scale of cuts currently being discussed is so significant that 'protecting the front line' cannot mean 'maintaining the front line at current levels'.
"We will need honest conversations with politicians and the public about what services policing continues to deliver, and what stops."
A report for Police Review magazine back in July said that threatened budget cuts to the police service in England and Wales could lead to 60,000 police officer and civilian posts being lost by 2015.
The Police Federation's new 40,000 figure applies only to front-line policemen and women.
Police spending reached an all-time high of £13.7bn in the last financial year - almost 50% more than it was when Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997.
Officer numbers are also at their highest ever - officially almost 144,000 across the 43 forces in England and Wales - but the proportion directly involved in beat work has fallen by 1,500 in the last four years.
Meanwhile, the number in niche or specialist policing units - such as terrorism or child abuse - has increased.
Chief constables across Scotland have individually been warning of the financial problems ahead.
The Scottish Police Federation calculated that a cut of an £88m figure it had seen documented would be equivalent to 2,808 officers, out of a Scotland-wide total of 17,409.