Police Scotland officer numbers hit nine-year low
Officer numbers in Scotland have dropped below the government’s former target for the first time in nine years.
There were just 17,170 full-time equivalent officers in Police Scotland at the end of March this year, 86 fewer than in the previous quarter and the lowest level since 2009.
The new figure marks the first time officer numbers have fallen below the 17,234 target set by the SNP in 2007 since it was dropped two years ago.
The Scottish government stressed that numbers are still well above the level it inherited when it came to power.
Opposition MSPs have claimed the decline could threaten public confidence in policing.
Scottish Labour justice spokesperson, Daniel Johnson, said: “The reality is that there are fewer front-line officers in our communities and local stations have closed across the country.
“Public confidence in the force is at rock bottom following scandal after scandal, and falling officer numbers will only make matters worse.”
The SNP introduced a commitment to maintain officer numbers at a minimum of 17,234 in 2007, 1,000 more than the number of officers across Scotland at the time.
Since this promise was first achieved in 2009 it has largely been upheld, barring a drop to 17,217 later that year and again to the same level in December 2010.
However, the promise was dropped from the party’s 2016 manifesto.
Police Scotland’s ten-year plan published in 2016 also forecast the loss of 400 police officers by 2020.
Both the force and the Scottish government claimed the reduction in numbers would give more flexibility to help respond to changing demands.
Officer numbers in England and Wales have reduced by around 20,000 over the same period.
The Scottish government has pledged real-terms protection to the police budget and is providing an additional £100 million by 2021.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “The Policing 2026 strategy committed Police Scotland to the right workforce mix, including civilian specialists and other support staff to tackle the new and emerging challenges of modern criminal activity while keeping officer numbers significantly above what this government inherited in 2007.
“Today’s figures confirm this plan is taking effect and they have signalled that a number of officers have been freed up from back-office roles to ensure the frontline is maintained and enhanced, as outlined in the strategy.
“While staging is a matter for the chief constable, I am acutely aware that the public will want to be assured that our hard working police officers are able to offer the best possible service to keep our communities safe.”