Statistics released by the Scottish Government show there were 17,242 full-time equivalent officers between April and June – the lowest number since the final three months of 2010 when there were 17,217.
The SNP dropped a pledge to maintain 1,000 extra officers earlier this year amid pressure from senior officers to allow the cash-strapped national force to better manage its own finances.
But the Scottish Police Federation, a staff association representing the rank and file, (SPF) yesterday described the downward trend as “alarming”.
Brian Docherty, the SPF’s chairman, said: “At a time when police demand continues to rise and public satisfaction is falling, this is the greatest example yet that finance is being put ahead of public safety.
“It is impossible to see how having fewer officers can do anything but result in a further diminution of the quality of service to the public and the citizens of Scotland will receive a lesser service and be less safe a consequence.”
He added: “Fewer police officers is just another sign that policing in Scotland is at breaking point.”
The total number of officers is 1,008 higher than in March 2007, the year the SNP came to power with its 1,000 extra officers pledge.
Community safety minister Annabelle Ewing said recorded crime was at a 41-year low, with Scotland “as safe as it has been for over a generation”.
She added: “This reduction in crime levels is supported by continued high numbers of police and I am very pleased to note that numbers remain well in excess of those in 2007.”
But Tory justice spokesman Douglas Ross accused the SNP of “smoke and mirrors” and called for the public to be reassured the force is “sufficiently staffed”.
Labour’s Claire Baker said the statistics could prove to be an “indication of what is to come” due to the budgetary pressures being faced by Police Scotland.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “These figures are a snapshot in time and change on a daily basis.”