POLICE officers are among our most valued public servants.

Every time a rapist, murderer or wife beater is jailed, it is because of police work.

But citizens expect officers to be catching criminals, not chasing arbitrary targets set by their force.

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Today's revelations question whether the targets culture imposed on the public sector is doing more harm than good. At face value, recorded crime fell by 13% in the last full financial year and non-sexual violent crime dropped by 21%.

But former police officers say these figures should come with a health warning. They say pressure from the top means that officers wrongly classify and downgrade serious crime, in the knowledge that it will make the figures look good. A serious assault can sometimes be recorded as a common assault, and robberies recorded as something more minor.

The ex-officers say the number of recorded stop searches - more than 500,000 in the first nine months of Police Scotland - is an exaggeration.

It is alleged the computerised system allows some frontline officers to invent bogus stop-searches as a way of inflating their number. The claims echo revelations from England. Multiple inquiries are under way to look at the system in England and Wales, and it is time we looked at how crime is classified in Scotland.

This investigation should look at whether the targets culture has had a negative impact on officers' behaviour.

Without moves such as those our most valued public servants will begin to lose their value.