PSNI can't be made 'scapegoat' with further budget cuts, warns federation
Any attempt to further cut funding for the police would be "reckless and irresponsible", the body representing rank and file officers has warned.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) was reacting to a Civil Service exercise that mapped potential ways to balance the books over the next two financial years.
While the three scenarios outlined by the Stormont officials this week offered a degree of protection for part of the PSNI budget, they all would still likely result in some cuts to the organisation's funding.
The draft budget exercise was published to highlight the tough choices on the horizon as public services continue to limp on amid the powersharing crisis.
The federation said the PSNI would be in danger of losing £14m in funding - a slice it equated to 280 officers.
PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay said the PSNI could not be made a "financial scapegoat".
"I cannot believe senior civil servants would actually countenance such a reckless and irresponsible move," he said. "We're already cut to the bone - there's nothing else to give - yet once again policing appears to be the financial scapegoat.
"We're already facing tough times with planned recruitment falling way behind what's required.
"Hundreds of officers are entitled to retire in the first half of 2018 and if this headlong dash to balance the books isn't stopped in its tracks, it's possible we will see the PSNI reduce in size to below 6,000 for the first time."
Mr Lindsay, who vowed to resist any cut, highlighted the terrorist threat that officers in the region faced on a daily basis.
"This suggestion of a further cut in PSNI allocation needs to be consigned to the bin," he said.
"There must be full realisation that a modern-day police service needs to be properly resourced.
"Instead of brutal, poorly thought-out cuts, we need politicians and civil servants to go in to bat for the PSNI rather than acquiesce or prevaricate."
The Department of Finance document set out a number of scenarios for absorbing looming real term cuts to Stormont's resource budget - 0.9% next year and 2.3% in 2019/20 - with the other Stormont departments outlining how the various scenarios would impact their services.
The Department of Justice warned that significant cuts would "seriously undermine" the PSNI's ability to deliver an effective service.