Number of police officers in Scotland falls

Police officers Image copyright Getty Images

The number of police officers in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level since the end of 2010.

There were the equivalent of 17,242 full-time police officers in Scotland between April and June.

This represented the lowest number of officers since the last quarter of 2010 when there were 17,217.

However, the new figures show police numbers are still up by 1,008 since 2007 when the SNP pledged to increase the total number of officers by 1,000.

The target was an SNP commitment from 2007 until April this year, when it was dropped.

The Scottish Police Authority, which oversees Police Scotland, has previously said the policy of setting officer number targets represented a "very inflexible approach".

Minister for Community Safety Annabelle Ewing said crime was at a 41-year low and that Scotland was as safe as it had been for over a generation.

Staffing mix

She added: "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."

Analysis by Reevel Alderson, BBC Scotland home affairs correspondent

Image copyright Getty Images

The commitment by the SNP to increase police numbers by 1,000 was made in the election manifesto of 2007 - and by the next election in 2011 it had achieved its target of 17,234.

In subsequent years police strength has fluctuated, although it has remained above the number inherited from the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Yet numbers have been sharply reducing in England and Wales; since 2010 around 18,000 officers have left the service south of the border.

But financial pressures on the police service have been mounting - and the Scottish government was forced to offer £100m over five years to meet budgetary shortfalls.

Since around 85% of police spending is on wages, cutting staff numbers would have seemed an obvious way to save money - except for the SNP's manifesto pledge.

Cyber crimes

However, a way out of the conundrum may have come in the consultation on strategic policing priorities announced by the government in June 2016.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley has talked about the changing nature of policing, pointing to new forms of criminality such as cyber and economic crimes.

His mantra is to create a "sustainable operational model" although he has declined to address the issue of the number of officers he wants to populate that model.

The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has said they believe it to be a "racing certainty" that numbers will be allowed to dip back below the 2007 manifesto commitment.

And with ministers fond of pointing out that crime in Scotland is at a 42-year low, and detection rates at an all-time high, perhaps the SNP will soon abandon one of its headline sacred cows.

Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation which represents many of Scotland's police officers, said the drop in numbers was "disappointing" and "alarming".

He 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."

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross said: "Police Scotland needs a balanced workforce, but all these figures show is a downward trend - and it (the force) has made no secret of the fact it is facing significant budgetary pressures.

"We need to establish whether this drop in numbers is down to shifting priorities for the police, or a wholesale downscaling of resources."

Scottish Labour's justice spokeswoman Claire Baker MSP said many people would worry that the latest drop in police numbers was "an indication of what is to come".

She added: "This cannot be allowed to happen.

"The public must have confidence in the government and Police Scotland to keep our streets and communities safe."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites