The number of full-time equivalent officers in Police Scotland fell by 312 during the first three months of 2022, reaching the lowest level since 2008.
The decline represented 1.8% of the force’s overall strength, meaning it had 16,805 full-time equivalent police officers as of March 31.
The quarterly figures come as 1919, a magazine focused on the justice sector, said police retiral rates were 70% higher than normal – partly due to new pension arrangements.
The magazine reported analysis from the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), which said “many of those exits may come from those who postponed their retirement to work through the pandemic”.
David Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Police Federation, told the magazine: “This was an entirely foreseeable situation and it’s frustrating to now see Police Scotland scrabbling around trying to keep the wheels on the bus.
“For years we have warned that officers would be looking to leave the service as soon as they could and now that they have the vehicle to do so, they are.”
He continued: “We are now watching centuries of experience leave the organisation both to the detriment of colleagues left in the service and to the public at large.”
A Police Scotland spokesman told the magazine: “Retirement rates, in addition to extra pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, have created significant challenge and we are working hard to address these issues and maintain effective policing for the public we serve.
“As a single national service, we are identifying resources and managing recruitment to provide support and stability to frontline policing.”
Scottish Conservative MSP, Jamie Greene, commented on the quarterly police officer figures.
He said: “This shocking drop in the number of police officers exposes just how low a priority public safety is to the SNP Government.
“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.”