The number of Police Scotland officers saw a small increase towards the end of 2022, after falling sharply over the previous 12 months.
Quarterly figures show that full-time equivalent officer numbers reached 16,644 at the end of December, an increase of 74 from the previous quarter.
It means that Police Scotland’s officer numbers are 2.8% lower than the end of 2021.
A number of factors have influenced Police Scotland’s workforce in recent years, including the pandemic and the arrangements for Cop26, which delayed the intake of new recruits.
Changes in pension schemes have also led to a higher than usual number of officers retiring.
Justice Secretary Keith Brown said: “Policing is and will continue to be a priority for this government.
“We remain committed to working closely with both the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland to support delivery of the joint policing strategy to ensure we continue to have a safe, protected and resilient Scotland.
“Officer numbers fluctuate due to the cycle of recruitment and retirement and this was further impacted by last year’s police pension changes.
“However, I was pleased to see that Police Scotland welcomed around 900 new recruits in 2022.
“Despite UK Government austerity, and in recognition of the crucial role Police Scotland officers and staff play keeping our communities safe, the service will receive substantial additional resource funding of £80 million in the next financial year, a 6.3% increase.”
He added: “Officer numbers here are also favourable with 30 per 10,000 of population, compared with 24 per 10,000 in England and Wales.
“Recorded crime is at one of the lowest levels seen since 1974, and is down 42% since 2006-07.”
However, the Conservatives highlighted that 2022 saw officer numbers fall to the lowest level since 2008.
MSP Jamie Greene said: “It is no surprise we are seeing the worst police officer numbers since 2008, given how low a priority justice is for the SNP Government.
“These figures are truly appalling, and Keith Brown should be ashamed – especially having given his public backing to ditching the SNP’s target number of officers.
“At a time when violent crime is on the rise, police need the backing of the SNP – but instead they get the exact opposite.
“Public safety is being put at risk by the dangerously thin blue line that the SNP Government has imposed on our police.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “These figures reveal how ineffectual the SNP’s alleged commitment to policing truly is.
“Police numbers have fallen compared to where they were last year, and with retirement rules already causing an exodus from the force those numbers are going to get worse before they get better.
“All of this against a backdrop of savage cuts to our justice system, which is failing victims.
“This is not acceptable. The SNP must finally make police workforce planning a priority and ensure communities are not harmed because of government inaction.”
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