By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has welcomed new figures showing a seven per cent increase in police officers from when Labour in was last in power in 2007, and a 35-year record low in recorded crime in Scotland.
The latest Police Officer Quarterly Strength Statistics show that there were 17,343 police officers in Scotland at the end of last year.
Police officer numbers have increased by 78 full-time officers in the last quarter from 30 September 2011 and leaped by 126 officers from the end of 2010.
The news comes as two police forces in England have announced that they will be contracting out certain services to the private sector, introducing privatisation into the police force for the first time. The West Midlands and Surrey forces have invited bids from private security companies to take over a wide range of services currently carried out by police officers.
Organisations representing police officers have criticised the plans and raised fears that they will lead to the loss of properly trained and qualified officers and their replacement by private security workers without the necessary skills or experience.
Simon Reed, from the Police Federation, said in a statement, “I think what they’re looking to do is to just put anyone in a uniform to have a visible presence and to get involved if they have to, but they certainly won’t have the skills, the knowledge and the training that a police officer would have (in) how to deal with the public.”
No such measures are being considered in Scotland, where control of the justice system is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
John Finnie, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands and former serving police officer with the Northern Constabulary, welcomed the news that the number of police officers in Scotland has increased and hopes neighbouring countries – including England and Wales – can learn from Scotland’s example.
“This is great news for the people of Scotland and shows that the Scottish Government is totally committed to keeping our communities safer and tackling crime through having more police on our streets.
“Fewer people in communities up and down Scotland are now likely to become victims of crime and re offending rates are at an 11 year low.
“The risk of crime is lower in Scotland than it is in England and Wales. Unfortunately, south of the border there is now the lowest number of officers since 2002 and an estimated 16,000 police are likely to lose their jobs due to UK government funding cuts.
“David Cameron and the Tory-Lib coalition in Westminster can look north and learn from how our police numbers have reduced crime levels in Scotland, like they now seem to be doing with minimum pricing per unit of alcohol to address problem drinking, which the Scottish Government has pioneered with.”