Scots police numbers reach a record high
KENNY MacAskill claimed yesterday that the Scottish Government was on target to meet its commitment of 1,000 extra police after new figures showed that the number of officers in Scotland had risen above 17,000 for the first time.
The justice secretary said the extra officers would provide a more visible police presence and more reassurance for the public.
The SNP came to power in 2007 promising 1,000 extra police officers but this dropped to 500 after ministers studied the state of the public finances.
The target was pushed back up to 1,000 extra officers after the Conservatives demanded the change in return for support for the SNP Budget.
After a sluggish start, caused by the retiral of many officers, considerable progress has been made and yesterday's figures now suggest that the 1,000-officer pledge is likely to met in time for the next election in 2011.
The statistics showed that, at the end of March this year, there were a record 17,408 police officers employed across the country. That is 373 more than at the end of December last year and is a rise of 821 from March 2008.
The figures showed that the number of officers had increased in all eight of Scotland's police forces.
There were increases in all forces, from two in Dumfries and Galloway to 249 in Strathclyde.
Mr MacAskill said: "For the first time on record there are now more than 17,000 police officers in Scotland, serving our communities and policing our streets."
And he added: "These latest figures show we are well on course to meet that commitment."
The number of police officers is now above the total of 17,625 figure the parliament has demanded of the SNP as proof it has met its target but, because of retirals and those leaving the force, the total is expected to dip again before climbing back up to the target again in time for the 2011 deadline.
Richard Baker, Labour's justice spokesman, welcomed the increase, but added: "Much of this progress has been achieved by individual police boards.
"Police boards should be praised for their commitment to local policing as should the local authorities across the country who are providing so many officers from their funding."
Bill Aitken, for the Tories, claimed credit for the increase. He said Conservative pressure had led to the government increasing the number of extra officers from 500 to 1,000.
Mr Aitken said: "Scottish Conservatives are responsible for this success. Every single police officer above 500 extra is as a direct result of our pressure on the Scottish Government in the 2008 and 2009 budgets.
"If it had not been for us, Scotland would only have had 500 extra police officers. If it had been left up to Labour, there would be none at all."
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