A FALL in police numbers in the Capital today prompted a warning that further cuts could leave officers unable to cope with a major incident.
The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) says the east of Scotland has suffered bigger cuts than other parts of the country since the eight former forces were merged to create Police Scotland in April 2013.
And using figures compiled from its own members working on the ground, the SPF says Edinburgh has seen a halving of the number of police officers on duty per shift over the past five years.
Brian Jones, chair of the SPF east area committee, said before 2011 the Capital used to have a minimum of 70 officers per shift, but now the figure is 38.
He said: “There has been a major contraction of resources right across the east.
“We cannot keep cutting. We have to have a sensible approach.
“If we don’t I fear it could be just a matter of time before something significant happens and we’re not able to cope.”
He said the cuts had been dramatic. “Think of it like a footprint – if you had a size ten prior to April 2013, in the east you would now have a size five or six. That’s how much the footprint has reduced.
“The financial situation for Police Scotland is dire and in the east we have seen a significant reduction in the resource base, both physical and financial.
“Rest days are cancelled at short notice. To police the Edinburgh Festival, they are having to draw on personnel from the Borders and Fife. Then the question is who is back-filling for the officers coming from there?”
He said Police Scotland argued areas could always draw on central resources and that officers were giving 100 per cent to the job
But he added: “You need people on the ground. It takes time to bring in support from the centre. There is only so long you can work at maximum output before something fractures.”
Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said Police Scotland had already cut civilian support staff and now the cuts were hitting frontline policing too.
“The SNP has made much play of an increased police presence on the streets, but these statistics have given the lie to that,” he said.
“Not only do we have an increase in bureaucracy for beat police officers because of the reduction in back-office support staff; now it seems even the officers patrolling the street are significantly down.
“This is yet more evidence of the colossal failure the merger of the eight forces into Police Scotland has been.
“Our police deserve our support for the fantastic job they do keeping us safe, but it is clear the SNP has been letting the force – and our communities – down with these reductions.
He said the cuts would do nothing to bolster public confidence.
“Anyone living in Edinburgh knows in recent years we have suffered something of a crimewave in housebreaking and car thefts,” he said.
“We want to know that at the times of greatest need there will be a police officer to help as soon as possible. But these figures suggest that is not the case.”
And he said he feared crime could rise. “If we have fewer police officers, more crime will go unresolved and criminals will be able to operate at large.”
Edinburgh Tory group leader and former policeman Cameron Rose said the drop in officer numbers was the latest in a line of problems.
He said: “I have been aware for some time of anecdotal comparisons which suggest a huge discrepancy has developed between falling available resources in Edinburgh and higher numbers in the west. Yet police numbers overall have broadly been maintained.
“The figures merit proper investigation and scrutiny by the Scottish Police Authority.
“This comes after the disastrous I6 computer system was scrapped at huge expense. Police call centres clearly need a root and branch reform.
“I wasn’t one of those who predicted centralisation would inevitably be a failure. But the project has been just that.
“Police Scotland needs bright new management, inspirational leadership and an end to the direct link to the Scottish Government. Perhaps local police commissioners aren’t such a bad idea after all.”
Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “We are seeing yet another area where the lack of resource is having a real first-hand impact on policing.
“The police do an excellent job but it’s very difficult to do that job when they just don’t have the resources to carry out their duties.
“It’s another example of frontline services being squeezed by the SNP. It’s time they came clean about what is happening,”
City council community safety leader Cammy Day said he had not been aware of such a dramatic reduction in police numbers. “It’s quite concerning when communities are asking to see more police on the streets to hear they have reduced it,” he said.
He said the council put £2.6 million a year towards funding community officers across the city. “People want to see local bobbies on the beat and that has to be a core priority of Police Scotland’s work.”
Responding on behalf of the force, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “We carefully manage our resources at local, regional and national level to deal with the priorities of our communities, emerging threats and risks, major events and public demand.
“Overall, officer numbers have remained constant, and information is regularly published detailing the resources we have available throughout the country. Since the start of Police Scotland, officers and staff have consistently delivered excellent policing at a number of major events and responded to major incidents and investigations.
“Police Scotland has more capacity and capability to deal with major incidents than any single previous legacy force.
“The structures brought into place in 2013 delivered equity of access to specialist services in support of local policing across Scotland. Individual Divisional Commanders are responsible to their communities and as such are empowered to deploy resources according to the needs of their communities.
“Local policing is at the core of Police Scotland, and this is supported by a range of specialist services which have a footprint throughout the country.
“We will engage with staff associations, including the Scottish Police Federation and unions to deliver high-quality policing within our budget.”