Byline: Simon Johnson
ALEX SALMOND'S pledge to flood Scots streets with more bobbies on thebeat descended into farce yesterday.
Before May's election, the SNP promised to hire an extra 1,000 police officers.
But yesterday ministers were forced to admit they could only afford half thatnumber.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill even confessed that police numbers couldactually fall in the next few years, due to retirements.
The announcement was labelled a sham by opposition politicians, who claimed theSNP had 'conned' voters.
Mr MacAskill denied breaking the election pledge, but admitted he had no targetfor the overall number of police officers in Scotland.
He said 500 'new' beat bobbies would be found by dissuading officers fromretiring and redeploying deskbound staff to the frontline.
But he added: 'What matters is delivering and we're delivering a thousand newofficers into our communities through recruitment, retention and redeployment.We believe all three are equally important.' Mr MacAskill denied the SNP'soriginal police recruitment target had been abandoned as it was too expensive.
But Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said it had been watered down from'1,000 new police officers' to '1,000 more police in our communities' to '500extra officers'.
He added: 'Today, they have finally admitted this key manifesto pledge wasnothing more than a con. It is the first promise they have broken.
That is shameful.' In April, Mr Salmond promised the Scottish Police Federation(SPF) [pounds sterling]78million for extra recruits. Mr Mac-
Askill yesterday announced [pounds sterling]54million to recruit 500 new officers by April2011, including at least 150 by April next year.
He said the difference was made up with spending in the current financial yearand cash from other sources.
Mr MacAskill's announcement means fewer police will be recruited in 2007-08than in any year since devolution.
About 450 have so far been signed up and, if his target of another 150 for thisyear is met, it will bring the total to 600. …