The thin blue line: Massive drop in the number of applications to join Police Scotland

The number of applications to join Police Scotland dropped by more than half last year, it has emerged.

Figures revealed by the justice and social affair magazine 1919 show there were 2,237 applications in 2021/22, down from 5,611 the previous year and 4,228 in 2019/20.

On Friday, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) began what it called its “most overt demonstration of action” in 100 years as officers withdrew their goodwill in a pay dispute.

While police officers are legally prevented from taking industrial action, they will not start their shifts early or take radio equipment home when their duty ends.

New recruits passing out and ready to go on duty, but new applications to join Police Scotland have more than halved

Further talks between the SPF and the Scottish Government are due to take place over three days this week.

SPF general secretary, Calum Steele, said: “Policing is clearly becoming a less attractive as a career choice, which could be down to issues around pay, funding and falling numbers of officers putting more strain on available resources.

“We are aware there is a very buoyant jobs market in the UK just now and the police service is competing against a whole variety of other professions and industries.

“Clearly, issues around pay and reward and flexibility are playing a part in the falling numbers of applications.”

Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain, a former police officer, said the application figures show a “sharp decline in the number of those interested in a police career”.She said: “The reasons for this are complex and varied. This type of career involves navigating high-level pressures and demands.“We know from staff surveys that police officers and staff are struggling with exhaustion, stress and mental health problems.“Likewise, despite violent crime being on the rise, they have been plagued by a shortage of resources, the loss of valuable civilian expertise and a reliance on outdated IT systems.“This is set to worsen with another round of SNP cuts coming down the line. No wonder it is not looking like an appealing career.”

However, Police Scotland Superintendent Simon Wright encouraged those interested to pursue a career in policing.

He said: “The police service, like many other large organisations, has been dealing with the impact of Covid over the past two years which limited our recruitment and training for a period of time.

“However, despite the pandemic, we have continued to recruit people, wishing to make a commitment to Police Scotland, and importantly, we have successfully met all our recruitment intakes.

“Since the start of 2022, we have received 1,755 new applications and have increased police officer recruitment by 50%, bringing around 300 new police officers into policing on every intake."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Police officer numbers in Scotland remain significantly up from 2007, and are favourable relative to elsewhere in the UK with around 32 officers per 10,000 population in Scotland compared to around 23 officers per 10,000 population in England and Wales.

“It is normal for officer numbers to fluctuate and the current figures were impacted by use of the Police Scotland training college as a base for UK officers during Cop26, as well as the ongoing impact of coronavirus restrictions.

“Despite UK Government austerity, we have increased police funding year-on-year since 2016/17 and have invested more than £10 billion in policing since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.”