The number of police officers in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level in more than three years.

The total of 17,244 is still 10 more than the target set by the SNP when it came to office in 2007.

But it has decreased by 252 full-time equivalent officers over a year, and is at its lowest point since December 2010 when there were 17,217 across the country.

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The SNP pledged to boost the number of police officers by 1,000 after it formed a minority administration in 2007.

Since then, the figure has increased overall by 6% from 16,234, according to the Scottish Government.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "This Government has worked to protect police numbers and keep our streets safe and this has contributed to an almost 40-year low in recorded crime.

"I am proud that we have continued to keep our commitment to put 1,000 additional officers in communities, and extra officers are already being recruited ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

"Meanwhile in England and Wales officer numbers are expected to drop by more than 15,000 in total with numbers now at their lowest level in 11 years.

"We have always said that police numbers will fluctuate and this publication shows they are moving towards 1,000, continuing to exceed the target while keeping costs down. Alongside Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, we are strongly committed to delivering 1,000 extra officers.

"The creation of Police Scotland and the SPA has allowed local policing to prosper with officers dedicated solely to local policing in each division supported by specialist services and the ability to allocate additional police officers in every area where and when they are needed."

Scottish Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former senior police officer, said: "The reduction in the numbers of police officers hides the real danger of the SNP playing a numbers game for media headlines.

"There has been a far greater reduction in the number of police officers actually on our streets, tackling crime.

"With the loss of thousands of civilian jobs, we have police officers sitting behind desks and not out on the streets. Recent media coverage reveals police officers sat in closed police stations refusing to answer the phone or to help someone knocking on the door. With police counters closed and hours reduced right across Scotland, communities are seeing the impact of the SNP's cuts.

"Kenny MacAskill might simply want to talk about the headline number of police officers. But if they aren't out on the streets doing what they're trained to do, then it isn't much to shout about.

"We have Police Scotland slashing budgets all over the place to try to keep a headline number of officers which the SNP know bears no reality to the numbers actually on our streets. Our police officers and staff deserve better. Scots deserve better than a numbers game which make a mockery of the real issues facing our communities and Police Scotland."