THE number of police officers on Scotland’s streets fell by more than 250 in the past year, new figures show.
Statistics released today by the Scottish Government show officer numbers dropped by 1.4 per cent in the year leading up to 31 March.
However, the overall figure remains around 1,000 officers higher than when the SNP came to power in 2007 - one of the party’s key manifesto pledges.
There were 17,244 full-time equivalent (FTE) police officers in Scotland on 31 March 2014.
This is an increase of 1,010 FTE police officers (+6.2 per cent) from the 16,234 police officers recorded at 31 March 2007.
But officer numbers have decreased by 13 FTE officers in the last quarter from 31 December 2013 (-0.1 per cent), and by 252 FTE officers in the last year from 31 March 2013 (-1.4 per cent)
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “This government has worked to protect police numbers and keep our streets safe and this has contributed to an almost 40-year low in recorded crime.
“I am proud that we have continued to keep our commitment to put 1,000 additional officers in communities and extra officers are already being recruited ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
“Meanwhile in England and Wales officer numbers are expected to drop by more than 15,000 in total with numbers now at their lowest level in 11 years.
“We have always said that police numbers will fluctuate and this publication shows they are moving towards 1,000, continuing to exceed the target while keeping costs down. Alongside Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, we are strongly committed to delivering 1,000 extra officers.
“The creation of Police Scotland and the SPA has allowed local policing to prosper with officers dedicated solely to local policing in each Division supported by specialist services and the ability to allocate additional police officers in every area where and when they are needed.”
Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick added: “The creation of single service has allowed us better flexibility in allocating police officers to the right place at the right time to help keep people safe. By establishing a new policing delivery model, we can ensure every division has access to every kind of specialist support without geographical boundaries. This allows Police Scotland to protect and enhance local policing for our communities.
“Police Scotland continues to maintain police officer numbers at a minimum of 17,234 to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment and we have a rolling recruitment programme to ensure we maintain this resource.”
But Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, Graeme Pearson, said the reduction in backroom staff since the creation of Scotland’s single force meant police officers were now spending less time on the streets.
“The reduction in the numbers of police officers hides the real danger of the SNP playing a numbers game for media headlines,” he said.
“There has been a far greater reduction in the number of police officers actually on our streets, tackling crime.
“With the loss of thousands of civilian jobs, we have police officers sitting behind desks and not out on the streets. Recent media coverage reveals police officers sat in closed police stations refusing to answer the phone or to help someone knocking on the door. With police counters closed and hours reduced right across Scotland, communities are seeing the impact of the SNP’s cuts.
“Kenny MacAskill might simply want to talk about the headline number of police officers, but if they aren’t out on the streets doing what they’re trained to do, then it isn’t much to shout about.”