Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has been asked to make an urgent Holyrood statement after it emerged police officer numbers have fallen to the lowest level in almost a decade.
Official Scottish Government figures showed there were 17,147 full-time equivalent officers in the country at the end of September. The number is 25 down on the last quarter and a decrease of 103 from September 2017.
The last time the number of officers was lower was in the first three months of 2009, when the total was 17,048.
Officer numbers increased after the SNP came into power in 2007, with the party committing to putting 1,000 extra police on the streets, reaching the figure by 2009.
The commitment has not applied since 2016 but the Scottish Government said officer numbers “remain significantly” above the level in 2007.
Labour, however, said the statistics contained in the latest Police Scotland staff survey showed 349 officers have now been lost since the peak in 2013 – adding that the number of officers cut equates to the size of almost the entire Dumfries and Galloway policing division.
Last year, Police Scotland announced it would slow recruitment between 2018 and 2020 as a result of a funding gap.
The move followed analysis published in December 2017, which suggested Scotland’s police service was facing a £188 million shortfall by 2020/21.
Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson Daniel Johnson MSP said: “There are now nearly 350 fewer police officers in Scotland under the SNP.
“The loss of so many officers – the equivalent of the entire Dumfries and Galloway policing division – will rightly concern people across the country, who are already seeing a police presence disappear form their community.
“The reality is, the SNP’s con-trick on police officer numbers has been exposed for what it was – pure spin and no substance. While SNP ministers maintained police officers, they sacked civilian staff and made officers who should be on the frontline do their jobs.
“The foolishness of that policy has now been exposed. Labour would make different choices: rather than cutting officers, we would ensure they are on the frontline where they belong.”
Mr Leonard added: “SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf must urgently explain to parliament and the public how many officers will be cut and what the impact will be on public safety. You can’t keep people safe on the cheap.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “Police officer numbers are at their lowest in almost a decade. However, these statistics only tell half the story. They fail to take into account the fact that around 2,000 skilled civilian staff were lost in the SNP’s centralisation and officers had to cover for them.
“Police officers, staff and the public need to know where they stand. Instead, the SNP government couldn’t even be straight about dropping its flagship target.
“Liberal Democrats demand better. Police Scotland and the SPA need to listen to staff and act on their concerns, starting with conducting the overdue service-wide survey.”
Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr said: “Police Scotland is committed to the continued development of a flexible and agile workforce that’s capable of responding to the evolving criminal threats to our communities.
“Having a core number of police officers will remain at the heart of policing in Scotland to ensure that we can protect people with different needs in every part of the country. Our technology strategy, approved by the Scottish Police Authority last month, is a key part of our transformation programme.
“Investment in IT will allow our officers to spend more time in the communities they serve, working on crime prevention and community-based policing to keep people safe, whether in the public, private or virtual space.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Police officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly above the level in 2007, with an increase of 913 since March 2007.
“This contrasts with a reduction of almost 20,000 officers in England and Wales. Scotland’s single police service means communities across the country now benefit from specialist national and regional expertise.
“This includes police officers and civilian specialists in various divisions who are deployed across Scotland when local needs arise.”
He added: “While staffing is a matter for the chief constable, HMICS and the Scottish Police Authority undertake regular assurance activity to ensure that the force continues to provide an excellent front line service across Scotland as it implements the Policing 2026 strategy.”