Police officer numbers continue to fall amid ‘dreadful’ morale, federation warns

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) has warned officer numbers may have plummeted to fewer than 16,000.

David Kennedy, general secretary of the organisation which represents rank-and-file police officers, highlighted the decline during a fringe event at the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow.

Police numbers have reached their lowest level since 2008, with 16,363 full-time equivalent officers as of December 31, 2023.

That was 250 down from the end of September last year, and was 282 fewer than at the end of 2022.

“We know it’s dreadful because police officers are leaving. They are leaving considerably in their droves compared to what they were in previous years.

“They have just had enough.”

However, Police Scotland have said claims officer numbers had fell beyond 16,000 were false.

Mr Kennedy also said officers have been opting to retire from the force due to worsening conditions.

“Since 2013, we’ve lost over 1,000 police officers and we know that figure is going to rise even further,” he said.

SNP annual conference
David Kennedy is general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“That’s in the background of all of the extra jobs we have to do, all the extra legislation that’s came into play over the last 10 years.”

He later said the mental health crisis within the police force is “absolutely” a “timebomb”.

Earlier this month, figures obtained by Scottish Labour found mental health absences among officers increased nearly 70% in four years, with 59,073 officer working days and 22,828 police staff days lost to mental health absences in 2022/23.

In 2018/19, 8,623 working days were lost for police staff due to mental health.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Our funding settlement from the Scottish Government for the next financial year allows us to restart officer recruitment.

“The most up to date published figures show our officer numbers were 16,363 at the end of December and we will be welcoming an intake of 200 new probationers in March.

“Claims that our numbers will drop below 16,000 are wrong.”

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: “Despite deeply challenging financial circumstances due to the UK Government settlement, we are increasing the Scottish Police Authority resource budget by 5.6% in 2024-25 – an additional £75.7 million.

“The Chief Constable has confirmed that this investment will enable Police Scotland to restart recruitment next month and increase police numbers this year.

“Scotland continues to have more police officers per capita than England and Wales, and our officers are the best paid at all levels.

“I also welcome the new Chief Constable’s commitment to workforce wellbeing and that police officers and staff can access a range of services to care for their psychological and physical needs through Police Scotland’s ‘Your Wellbeing Matters’ programme.”

Police Scotland has been asked for comment.

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