The police force in Northern Ireland is “haemorrhaging” 17 officers every month because it is not replacing those who leave, the deputy chief constable said.
Senior commanders want enough Government money for a fresh recruitment drive to employ 7,000 to cover community policing as well as terrorist attacks and public disorder.
A special team of constables is to be established to conduct interviews and progress criminal cases more efficiently as part of a major rethink of how routine policing operations are run.
Deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie said: “This plan is a survival plan and hopefully it will prove to be our thriving plan but without Service First the business would fall over.
“We cannot continue the way we are going because the districts are haemorrhaging resources month on month through natural wastage.”
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has around 10,500 people, including civilians who do non-policing tasks. Just under 7,000 of those are officers, following dramatic cuts in numbers introduced after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended the conflict and envisaged a peace time policing operation.
Since then a resurgence in bombings and shootings by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process has consumed extra police time.
Commanders have warned the heightened security situation, including loyalist protests, marches and public disorder, cannot carry on indefinitely without extra resources, known as resilience in the force’s parlance.
A Service First plan will begin in Belfast in February and senior commanders believe it will allow them to meet day to day demands on police time with less officers. It will be rolled out across Northern Ireland.
Ms Gillespie said a total of 60 officers in Belfast are expected to leave in the longer term, out of a total of 900 in the city. Another 90 will form a dedicated team to take forward cases to the prosecution authority and courts.
Currently a single officer responds to a report of a crime, gathers evidence, and steers the matter through any legal process as investigative officer.
From February response officers who attend calls for burglaries or other emergencies will spend more time doing that, handing their cases to colleagues who conduct interviews, process evidence and follow up leads.
Ms Gillespie added: “Rather than it taking weeks it will be more like days. We can deliver a much better outcome for victims and there will be more consistency around the supervision of those investigations.”
She promised: “We will not compromise on officer safety and we will not compromise on public safety.”
An increased number of neighbourhood officers will be taking on extra duties like routine appointments with callers from the community. There were 130,000 calls for appointments last year.
Ms Gillespie said the new method would work even if there was an upsurge in dissident republican violence if special public order teams of officers were introduced to support local officers.