Residents could also face more social unrest due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, Chief Superintendent Sean Scott warned, which could be exacerbated by fewer “deployable officers” due to a lack of government money.
Critics said the Scottish Government’s approach to funding the police meant officers were doing their job with “one hand behind their back”.
In the Resource Spending Review, published in May, the finance secretary Kate Forbes confirmed a real-terms cut to the £1.3bn police budget until at least 2027.
This is the equivalent to an eight per cent real terms cut to the overall police budget, a number that could go higher if inflation becomes entrenched.
In a letter to elected members, seen by The Scotsman, Chief Sup. Scott who is the divisional commander of the Edinburgh division of Police Scotland, said policing in the Capital with current resources was not “sustainable” and could see numbers cut further.
He warned: “When you consider that approximately 88 per cent of the existing budget is used for people (officer and staff pay), that drop in budget allocation, whilst at the same time having to absorb an increase in pay and the rise in the cost of living and materials, means the current number of officers on the payroll isn’t sustainable.”
The senior police officer also warned that "unprecedented levels of overtime” was required to ensure a “safe number of boots on the ground”, a scenario he said was also unsustainable.
Officer numbers at Police Scotland are around 400 down due to a freeze on recruitment and training due to COP26 and changes to pension arrangements.
Chief Sup. Scott said the Edinburgh Division is the region “in most need of resource investment”, due to increased demand from both calls from the public but also high profile events, protests and demonstrations.
He also warned of further social unrest, saying there would be “more to come” due to the cost of living crisis, echoing concerns from the Chief Constable earlier this year, potentially exacerbated by having fewer officers available.
He said: “I think you’ll agree that social cohesion relies on a fully funded and efficient police service and when considering the levels of social unrest recently, with undoubtedly more to come as the cost of living continues to rise, you’ll no doubt share my concern at the prospect of having less deployable officers because of an inability to fund them.”
However, Chief Sup. Scott said officers would “continue do their utmost to keep our citizens safe and well”.
The Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothian region, Sue Webber, labelled the letter “deeply alarming” and said it painted a “stark picture” of policing caused by “SNP Government neglect”.
She said the potential for further officer cuts were “completely unacceptable”, adding “at a time when violent crime is rising we need more police officers, not further reductions.”
The party’s justice spokesperson, Jamie Greene, added that Edinburgh’s challenges were being replicated nationwide.
He said: “Police Scotland are being asked to do their job with one hand behind their back by ministers. No wonder morale is so low and increasing numbers of officers are seeking to retire early.
“We can ill afford to lose more officers but that will be the reality if the SNP Government plough ahead with the real-terms cuts that break their manifesto commitment.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said officer numbers in Scotland are “favourable” relative to England and Wales, and that despite the “incredibly challenging economic context”, ministers would continue to work with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to ensure “sustainable excellence”.
They added: “While the Scottish Government hugely values the hard work and dedication of police officers, the deployment of officers is a matter for the Chief Constable.”