A row broke out last night after Labour warned that police chiefs could axe the equivalent of every officer in the entire north-east division.
Opposition MSPs branded proposals which could affect up to 1,176 posts as “simply unacceptable” and warned that “you can’t keep people safe on the cheap”.
But the Scottish Government insisted the claims were “incorrect” and that there were “no plans” to cut officer numbers to that extent.
The dispute centres on the contents of a financial strategy which went before the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) board this week.
It presented three scenarios for “capacity creation” – a “low” option, which it said would represent the equivalent of 650 officers by 2020/21, a “medium” level of the equivalent of 852 officers, and a “high” option that would be the equivalent of 1,176.
The report said that the most effective way to measure the creation of “new capacity” was by using the number of full-time equivalent officers.
Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesman Daniel Johnson warned that the “truly shocking” high option could result in the loss of more than all the 1,155 officers currently based in the north-east region.
And even the best-case scenario would be the equivalent of axing the 649-strong Highlands and Islands division.
“Plans to cut more than 1,000 officers are the equivalent of losing an entire division of local officers and then some more. That is simply unacceptable,” he said.
“People across Scotland are already seeing police officers on the beat less and less – and these planned cuts will only make that situation worse.
“The SNP’s commitments on police numbers have now been exposed for what they are – all spin and no substance. You can’t keep people safe on the cheap.”
However, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “These claims are incorrect.
“As the first minister has made very clear, there are no plans to cut police numbers in the way that has been suggested. Ministers expect police numbers to remain significantly above the level inherited in 2007.
“Furthermore, both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority have emphasised that the projections of increased capacity simply cannot be equated to a reduction in officer numbers.
“Policing 2026 is about creating the right workforce mix, including officers, civilian expertise and other support staff, to tackle new and emerging criminal threats.
“This included a commitment to move more officers onto the frontline and HMICS have confirmed that progress is being made.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Police Authority said: “There are absolutely no plans to reduce the police workforce by 1,200 officers.
“Going forward, the SPA will be working with HMICS on robust and increased governance in relation to the oversight of police reforms, including the planned reductions in officer numbers.”