An inadequate number of police officers is a major reason for the recent increase in crime in Northern Ireland, the Police Federation said.
Last year the amount of crimes rose in five of the nine main categories, most pronounced in drugs-related offences, although it remains at one of its lowest levels since the end of the Troubles.
The Federation, a representative organisation for officers, warned fewer community officers could reduce public confidence in the PSNI and create a vacuum for paramilitaries to exert influence.
It said the threat of Brexit made more recruitment even more pressing and they were seeking hundreds of extra officers to partly compensate for a manpower reduction to below 7,000.
Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said: “It is a major reason around increases in crime, it decreases public confidence and that will come next.”
He said the number of officers in public protection roles was 50% short.
“That has real implications for caseloads. Some stuff won’t be investigated, it puts people under real pressure.
“If you don’t have police on the streets, if there is no visible policing presence, if you don’t have police officers there, people will find alternative services.”
There were 98,301 crimes recorded by the PSNI in 2017/18, a rise of 0.3% on the previous year (98,014).
A recent report published by Stormont’s Executive Office said relations between the police and community in parts of Londonderry had deteriorated.
Lack of confidence in policing and the criminal justice system has translated into historically low levels of reporting and a discernible increase in hostile attitudes towards the PSNI in areas like the Brandywell and Creggan, according to the review.
Mr Lindsay warned about the influence of paramilitaries amid the “vacuum”.
He added: “We see this through the rise in punishment shootings and paramilitaries reinforcing their influence in some cases, simply because there is a vacuum.
“It allows people opportunities to put out their ideologies and hatred and control of areas and terrorise communities and the police.”
He said some were leaving the PSNI, at one stage 100 officers a month were retiring, and warned of the loss of experience that entailed.
Last year the service launched a drive to recruit 300 new officers.
In response, Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland is no different from any other public service and faces increasing budgetary pressures, increased demand and reducing resources.
“The PSNI recognises the need to continually adapt to new, growing and evolving crimes in areas such as child sexual exploitation, sexual offences, vulnerability and cyber-crime and in response have recently allocated additional resources into these areas.
“The chief constable (George Hamilton) has also identified potential post-Brexit pressures and has raised the need for additional police officers with central government.
“The PSNI also recognises the need to work in partnership to protect communities from organised crime and the activities of paramilitary groups.
“The work of the Paramilitary Crime Task Force has been instrumental in focusing proactive activity against these groups, supported by local and neighbourhood policing teams.
“As a Police Service we are constantly reviewing the pressures we face and are adaptable, innovative and flexible in ensuring that we make the very best use of our resources to meet the demands which we face in keeping people safe”.