POLICE numbers in Scotland have fallen below 17,000 for the first time since 2008, according to the latest figures from the government. 

The quarterly strength statistics published on Tuesday revealed there were 16,805 full-time equivalent police officers in Scotland on 31 March 2022, down by 312 since 31 December 2021.

The official figures include all police officers including probationers undertaking Scottish Police College training.

In 2007, the then SNP leader Alex Salmond set out plans for 1,000 extra officers and promised to maintain the extra police number in the 2011 election.

That commitment meant that when Police Scotland was formed in 2013 there could never be less than 17,234 police officers.

The last time numbers were below 17,000 was in the last quarter of 2008 when there were 16,675 officers. 

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur cautioned that the fall in police numbers was happening as violent crime spiked.

Figures released last month showed violent crime was also at its highest for a decade at 9,842 recorded offences, a 12 per cent rise on the previous year.

It was the highest figure since 2010/11, when 11,437 such crimes were recorded.

For non-sexual violent crime, although murders and robberies were down year-on-year, there were increases in attempted murder and serious assault and domestic abuse.

However, the main driver was a 37% jump in “other violence”, which includes threats and extortion, including cyber-crimes, as well as cruelty to children and abductions.

Mr McArthur said: "On Nicola Sturgeon's watch violent crime is on the rise yet the SNP are presiding over a decline in officer numbers. There are now fewer than at any time since 2008.

"Police officers and staff work tirelessly in a stressful job to keep our communities safe.

"They are being hampered by a lack of resources, the loss of valuable civilian expertise, a lack of mental health support and outdated IT systems.

"The Justice Secretary needs to set out a new plan of action for reducing violent crime and making sure that Police Scotland has the staff and equipment it needs to make that happen."

The Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Jamie Greene described the drop as "shocking."

He said: “This consistent neglect of our police service has undoubtedly made our streets less safe, and now violent crime is at its highest in a decade.

“We already know that local authorities have been forced to cut officer numbers due to SNP funding cuts, while the SNP’s centralisation of the police has meant patrols are less noticeable since the forces were merged.

“There has also been a cut of more than 900 officers to local police divisions since 2013, and when our police tried to secure the funding necessary to tackle crime, the SNP instead handed them a real-terms cut to their capital budget."

In February, Police Scotland's Chief Constable Iain Livingstone warned the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) that there could be a fall in numbers because of “natural retirements and attrition” and a longer than usual gap between intakes of new recruits because of COP26.

He told the SPA: “These necessary and important measures for coronavirus and the impact that was previously outlined of Cop26 on recruitment and training and availability of training facilities means there has been a longer period between intakes than would normally be the case.

“Inevitably this has implications on officer numbers over this Covid and Cop26 period.

“We are required to report officers numbers on a quarterly basis and in December of 2021, full-time equivalent number of officers was 17,117, now that is some 115 officers fewer than when we reported in the previous quarter of September 2021.

“With natural retirements and attrition, our overall number of officers will indeed reduce further when the statistics are next reported in April and I think it’s important that I am very clear on this matter.”