Police officer numbers in Scotland hit lowest level since 2008 amid claims of force crisis

The number of police officers in Scotland has dropped to its lowest level since 2008, sparking claims of a crisis in the force.

Official statistics show there were 16,610 full-time equivalent (FTE) officers as of June 30, a fall of 679 in the past year alone.

This is the lowest number since the creation of the single national force and is the equivalent of almost two officers leaving a day over the past 12 months.

In the past three months, the number of FTE officers has fallen by 195.

Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

Police Scotland said it is recruiting and 300 new probationary constables were welcomed into the force last week.

But Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene said the “exodus” should be a “huge wake-up call for the SNP”.

He said: “These latest figures show a drop more than 600 officers in less than a year, highlighting that policing is no longer an SNP Government priority – as the Chief Constable of Police Scotland has said himself.

“What’s worse, relations between police officers and the SNP Government are at rock bottom due to derisory pay offers, which have led the police to take industrial action despite their limited legal powers to do so.

“The SNP have further insulted the police by failing to deliver on their previous promises about protecting police funding and officer numbers, and it is public safety that will suffer as a result.

“The SNP have created a crisis in policing – they need to fix this mess or risk crime rates spiralling out of control.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur called the figures “alarming” and accused the SNP of “presiding over the hollowing out of our police force”.

He said: “The Scottish Government must commit to urgent action to turn around this situation and avert a national emergency.”

David Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents officers, said: “For too long police officers have been taken for granted and left feeling unrecognised and demoralised.

"This latest round of defunding is just the last straw for many, the consequences for which lie firmly at the door of Scottish Government.”

The SNP came to power in Scotland in 2007 with a pledge to increase the number of officers by 1,000 – taking the total number of police from 16,265 FTE officers at the end of June that year to 17,278 FTE by the end of June 2009.

Officer numbers then peaked at 17,496 at the end of March 2013 and, while they have fluctuated after that, they remained above 17,000 until the end of last year.

At the end of December 2021, the figures showed 17,117 FTE officers among Police Scotland’s ranks, with this then falling to 16,805 FTE at the end of March this year.

Data released under Freedom of Information previously revealed 763 Scottish police officers plan to retire this year, well above the average of 584 recorded over each year for the past five years.

Police Scotland recently launched a recruitment campaign, with Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone saying he wants to “encourage everybody to consider a career in policing”.

Responding to the latest figures, Sir Iain said: “Officer numbers are lower as a result of restricted recruitment because of Covid, the COP26 climate change summit, and increased retirals resulting from changes to pension arrangements.

"We are recruiting and I welcomed 300 new probationary constables last week.

“I have been clear the funding arrangements set-out in the Scottish Government’s spending review, if progressed, will mean difficult decisions for policing in Scotland – for example, a far smaller workforce.

“Workforce planning can assist in understanding how to best meet the increasingly complex policing needs of our communities.

"But this will be a challenge, particularly as policing in Scotland already delivers around £200 million of annual savings compared to legacy arrangements.”

SNP justice secretary Keith Brown said: “National police numbers remain higher than at any time during the previous administration. Our officer numbers are also favourable relative to elsewhere in the UK – with around 31 officers per 10,000 population in Scotland compared to around 24 in England and Wales as at March 2022.

“Officer numbers continue to reflect the impact of COP26 and Covid restrictions, which reduced capacity to train new recruits at the Scottish Police College. This is combined with the impact of recent pension changes, which I know Police Scotland is alert to and managing, and there has been a decrease in officers numbers over the quarter to June 30.

“I welcome the fact around 300 new police officers took the oath of office in April and around a further 300 last week – a vocational choice no doubt influenced by the basic starting salary for a constable in Scotland – which is currently approximately £5,000 more than that paid to equivalent officers in England and Wales.

“We will continue to support the force to deliver sustainable excellence by investing over £1.3 billion in policing in each of the next four years.”

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