A DROP in police officer numbers has been described as “another sign that policing in Scotland is at breaking point” by the organisation representing rank and file officers.
Police numbers fell to their lowest level for more than five years between April and June.
New figures show there were 17,242 full-time equivalent officers in the second quarter of the year – the lowest number since the final three months of 2010 when there were 17,217.
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), said the statistics are “alarming”, while Scottish Labour said many people will worry that the figures are “an indication of what is to come”.
The number remains well above 2007 levels, despite the SNP dropping its pledge to maintain 1000 extra officers earlier this year.
The target was a key SNP commitment for nine years and kept police numbers just above 17,234, measured against the March 2007 figure of 16,234.
The Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland’s oversight body, has previously said the policy represented a “very inflexible approach”, while others, including the SPF, have criticised a “target culture” in policing.
Trade union Unison has also said the target led to “backfilling” of civilian jobs with police officers.
Mr Docherty 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.
“Police officers are under intolerable pressure, they are working longer and harder than ever before.
“We should not forget that the police service receives over 10,000 calls per day, nearly four million a year, and is operating at a time of heightened threat of terrorist attack.
“The police service is fighting 21st-century crime with technology developed in the 1990s, police officers are working in asbestos-laden buildings and struggle to access vehicles to enable them to get to calls.
“Fewer police officers is just another sign that policing in Scotland is at breaking point.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said: “Considering the significant pressures being placed on Police Scotland’s budget, many will worry that these statistics are an indication of what is to come. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said: “This government is dedicated to protecting local communities through effective policing and with recorded crime at a 41-year low, Scotland is as safe as it has been for over a generation.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police Scotland seeks to provide the right policing resources in the right places for all the communities we serve, with around 75 per cent of police officers currently aligned to local policing.
“We place a high priority on localism with officers serving in local policing to respond to the needs of our communities.”