PSNI facing another five years of 'significant' cuts
But Chief Constable insists his force will continue to protect the public
The PSNI Chief Constable has warned that the policing budget will continue in a "significant downward trajectory".
George Hamilton said there were difficult choices ahead as uncertainty continued to make strategic financial management "virtually impossible".
But he insisted that despite the challenges, "the job of keeping people safe goes on".
The Chief Constable admitted that, because of fiscal pressures, he did not know how many officers he would be able to hire from a recruitment drive launched on Wednesday, but he said the final amount would "be informed by the money available".
The worrying financial outlook was shared yesterday with the Northern Ireland Policing Board as Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr warned that a dissident terrorist attack was "highly likely".
Mr Hamilton said the PSNI was facing in-year cuts up to £33m, with further reductions certain over the next five years.
"The only certainty that we have is that the policing budget will continue in a significant downward trajectory," added Mr Hamilton.
"As Chief Constable, I have a duty to keep people safe. While I will never compromise on that, I also have, as accounting officer, a duty to deliver a service within the budget that is afforded me. This will mean more difficult choices for me and for this Policing Board in the years ahead."
The PSNI is currently 180 officers short of operational resilience levels. Numbers have dropped to just 6,780, which is well below the recommended resilience level of 6,963. The Police Federation has said it is hopeful that the new recruitment campaign launched this week will help increase staff numbers in the force.
Federation chairman Mark Lindsay added earlier this week that he hoped the recruitment campaign was "the start of an all-out effort to get the numbers we need and not a stop-gap measure that will be inadequate".
However, the Chief Constable said yesterday that the extent of the recruitment drive would be informed by the amount of money available to the force.
"Efficiency savings must be constantly balanced against maintaining operational capability," he added.
"Before the summer we took the decision to reinstate our third recruitment competition. Given the financial uncertainty, recruitment will of course be kept under strict review.
"Despite the uncertainty and the many challenges that we are facing, the job of keeping people safe goes on."
Last month, more than 9,000 crimes were reported to the police. Almost 1,200 were related to domestic issues.