Police in Northern Ireland are planning for budget cuts of up to six per cent.
Greater investment in technology and more “agile” working practices will be among measures under consideration for next year, PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said.
The force is currently facing a small pressure from overtime costs and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents about 6,000 rank and file officers, has warned of a looming crisis after the PSNI predicted cuts of around £40.5 million.
Mr Hamilton said: “We are currently at the start of a budget planning process where we have been invited to scenario plan for up to a six per cent cut.
“Part of that exercise will give me the opportunity to outline the risks and opportunities of any future reductions to police funding and already the PSNI have identified potential implications of further cuts.
“Ultimately however the matter of budget cuts are political decisions.”
Funding for running the PSNI this year is worth £749 million, including additional money to deal with the dissident republican threat.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has highlighted that almost 1,500 officers (20%) are eligible for retirement in the next three years and questioned how the lost skills would be replaced.
The report also flagged a heavy reliance on overtime resources and noted high levels of long-term sickness.
Mr Hamilton said: “The recent HMIC report provides helpful commentary on the PSNI’s capacity with regard to current and future policing demands and while officer numbers are an important part of any assessment process they are only one element.
“The use of managed services, investment in technology and more agile working practices are all examples of other components of capability that will be considered in the budget planning process.”
The senior officer was recently forced into an embarrassing apology over a late-night tweet suggesting officers overwhelmed by the job should “dry your eyes” or “move on”.
He said: “I am mindful of the significant pressures which officers are currently under and the impact that this can have on their personal and family lives, something which has been demonstrated in public discussion in the past week.
“With this in mind the PSNI will continue to do all possible with the funding available to maximise police numbers and alleviate the unique pressures of being a police officer in Northern Ireland.”
The police chief has been forthright on the implications of cuts. But he recognised that all public services were being asked to deliver on efficiencies and said he took his responsibility as accounting officer for the force seriously.
The Police Federation has warned the budget has been “slashed” by more than £25 million in the last five years, enough to cover the salaries of 1,000 officers, and claimed society cannot afford further swingeing spending reductions.
Mark Lindsay, Federation chairman, said: “We are fully aware of fiscal pressures on public service. However, society needs to be aware that further cuts will have knock on effects that will be visible.
“Policing plays an important role in resolving local issues, but further cuts will lead to less visible policing and police officers being unable to respond in the manner to which communities have come to expect.
“Technology has frequently added to the front line officer’s work load - not lessened it - and these factors have to be taken into account.
“We already have an agile work force who go the extra mile on a daily basis. Their goodwill is often forgotten when workforce modernisation is mentioned.”