Severe doubts emerged last night over the Scottish Government’s commitment to recruit 1,000 extra police officers by the next election.
Questions were raised over the SNP commitment as official figures showed a record number of police officers.
Official statistics showed there were 16,526 at the end of September – up 1.1% or 188 over the quarter and up 1.4% or 220 over the year.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said forces had already recruited 440 out of the 450 recruits that the government had pledged by the end of March next year.
“This welcome increase in the number of officers is in part the result of our direct recruitment of new officers, over and above the recruitment plans of our police forces,” he said.
“Already the resources and policies now in place are delivering improved policing.”
He said the government had inherited the lowest recruitment levels since devolution, with many officers due to retire.
“We’ve tackled that challenge head on and, although these latest figures are reassuring, there remains much work to be done,” said the minister.
“We have set out plans to deliver a more visible policing presence on Scotland’s streets and make an additional 1,000 officers available in our communities.”
The increase in police divided among the eight forces. Grampian Police took on 13 new officers over the quarter and 55 over the year, while Northern Constabulary’s took on 10 over the quarter and 23 over the year.
Tayside’s staff increased by 10 over the quarter and just 13 over the year, while Central Scotland Police increased its numbers by 14 and 20 respectively.
Opposition politicians welcomed the extra police but said the increase did not go far enough.
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles said: “Although I welcome this increase in police numbers, it doesn't go nearly far enough to meet the SNP's manifesto commitment on police recruitment.
“At the current rate of recruitment, the SNP will never reach their target of 1,000 additional officers by 2011.”
Labour’s justice spokesman Richard Baker said any welcome for increased police had to be tempered against the 800 officers lost since the SNP came to power.
“Looking at the current figures, there are still severe doubts that the full 1,000 officers will be trained and in post at the next election,” the North-east MSP said.
Northern Constabulary Chief Constable Ian Latimer said the force numbers showed an increase of 71 over the past five years.
“There are currently 747 officers serving in Northern Constabulary and this shows we are well on target to achieve our long-term strategy of 800 officers by 2011,” he said.