THE PSNI is short of 147 detectives as it struggles to fight crime across the Province, it was revealed yesterday.
The force has confirmed the shortfall of officers who deal with serious crime, including murder, rape and armed robbery.
The PSNI has declined to specify the exact number of detectives it should have.
But Policing Board member Ian Paisley Jnr, who has highlighted the issue, said "no one should underestimate the seriousness of this problem".
It is understood that the PSNI has implemented emergency measures to deal with the staffing crisis.
These are believed to include delaying the retirement of a small number of officers and promoting constables to complete investigations work, which needs less training and experience.
The MLA has said the issue is not the fault of the PSNI.
He blames the Patten recommendations which implemented a severance scheme encouraging experienced officers to take early retirement.
A major drive is now on to try to bring in 105 officers into Crime Operations – the department which is home to the detective quota – by September.
Though PSNI insiders claim that even if this target is hit, not all the incoming staff will be employed as full detectives or have the experience levels which have been lost to the force in recent years.
The increasing concern over detective staffing levels has been outlined in a letter from Assistant Chief Constable (Crime Operations) Peter Sheridan to the Policing Board.
This correspondence was passed to the News Letter by Mr Paisley.
Dated May 15, 2008, Mr Sheridan wrote: "At the end of the financial year (March 31) my department was 99 detective officers below establishment.
"However, by the end of April 2008, this figure had increased to 147, mainly due to the impact of year nine of the organisation's voluntary severance scheme."
Mr Paisley said: "The fact is that Patten's severance scheme is responsible for decimating the number of detectives available to the Crime Operations Department.
"Patten has destroyed the ability of the police to have an adequate number of trained and experienced detectives at its disposal."
ACC Sheridan has detailed to the board a strategy which is being employed to try to plug some of the gap. The News Letter has been briefed on these measures but asked not to report them.
Though Mr Paisley believes that some of these temporary moves do not and cannot make up for the sudden loss of vast experience, as hundreds of detectives have quit over the nine years of the severance scheme.
The DUP MLA also felt that the lack of detectives "would explain why police are so poor at clearing up crime" – as established in the last crime figures report which revealed a clean-up rate of just 20.6 per cent, down on the previous years by three per cent.
The PSNI, however, would note that the 20.6 per cent rate refers more to low level crimes such as criminal damage, theft and anti-social behaviour.
Murder rate detection and clean-up is around 80 per cent.
A police spokesman said: "Crime Operations is the biggest department in the Police Service of Northern Ireland with a total staff of around 1,800 police and civilians. Resourcing is an issue under constant review. This is not an issue unique to PSNI. Police services across the UK face challenges in recruiting detectives. In Northern Ireland this is compounded by the (Patten) Voluntary Severance Scheme.
"Between today and September 1, 2008, a total of 105 officers will join the department in a variety of roles, thereby substantially reducing the shortfall referred to in the letter of May 15."