A record number of police officers are set to retire in Scotland this year, prompting concerns over public safety.
More than 300 officers left the national force in the first six months of 2018/19 after reaching the required number of years served or for medical reasons.
Police Scotland insists it is able to adjust recruitment levels to replace those leaving, but there are concerns that “decades of knowledge” is being lost in the fight against crime.
In the first six months of this year, 325 policemen and women retired from the force, according to the figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through Freedom of Information.
If that trend continues, the single force will have lost 650 police officers by the end of 2018/19.
That is a 16 per cent increase on the 561 who left last year and eclipses the high point of 2014/15 when 613 retired.
Tory legal affairs spokesman Gordon Lindhurst said: “This isn’t just a large number – with those hundreds of departures will go decades of knowledge and experience.
“That’s a priceless commodity for a police force which is finding itself under increasing pressure.
“The SNP Government needs to ensure that Police Scotland is not significantly damaged by this loss and that policing is fit for the challenges we face.”
Police Scotland staff, who include solicitors, mechanics, analyst programmers and accountants, are also expected to leave in record numbers, the figures show.
There were 73 retirements in the first half of 2018/19, which will reach 146 by the end of the year if trends continue.
That represents an increase from 111 last year, which was in itself a Police Scotland record high.
Lindhurst said the record number of departures would place the organisation under even more strain and could pose new safety risks to communities across the country.
It means in the past five years 2,631 police officers have retired from duty in Scotland, along with 419 other staff.
Lindhurst said: “Under the nationalists there have been cuts to police stations and to vital administration staff, while frontline officers have been dragged off the beat to fill the spaces left.
“We need assurances that there will be enough bobbies on the beat to ensure communities right across the country are safe and that criminals can be brought to justice swiftly and effectively.”
But a spokesman for Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “We will take no lectures from the Tories on this issue. It is the SNP which has delivered record numbers of police officers, and overall force strength remains high, with more than 900 more officers compared with 2007. We expect officer numbers to remain significantly above the level we inherited.”
Police Scotland insists it is able to increase the number of new staff it takes on to ensure a “balanced force”.
Assistant Chief Constable Angela McLaren said: “Leadership and experience are deep and broad in Police Scotland, with 60 per cent of officers having ten years’ service or more.
“The national service has afforded greater opportunity to diversify across a range of ranks and roles.
“So far this year we have seen a modest increase in officers who have come to the end of their service due to recruitment levels 30 years ago. The service takes note of leavers and adjusts recruitment accordingly to maintain a balanced force.”
Police officer numbers in Scotland sit at a nine-year low, with the most recent figures in the three months to September showing there are 17,147. This is the lowest since 17,048 in January to March 2009, The Scottish Government abandoned a commitment on police numbers in 2016.