Resources dedicated to investigating historic Troubles murders could be cut as a consequence of implementing potential cuts of £88m, the chief constable has warned.
George Hamilton said his priority when deciding where to reduce spend had to be keeping the public safe in the present day.
Mr Hamilton outlined the consequences of looming cuts to his operating budget at the monthly meeting of the PSNI's oversight body – the NI Policing Board.
As well as everyday policing functions, the PSNI dedicates significant resources to investigating historic Troubles killings through the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and to meeting its obligations to provide information to other legacy investigations, such as those undertaken by the Coroner's Service.
"The police's primary role is to keep people safe today," Mr Hamilton said at the meeting in Belfast.
"We also acknowledge that we do have a statutory responsibility around historical or legacy investigations and, of course, we are going to fulfil our obligations on that, but that does not mean that there is not some possibility to reduce the number of officers and support staff who are working on legacy investigations.
"And if I have to reduce headcount of police officers or police staff I will do it on historical issues before I do it on keeping people safe today.
"That is not to undermine the impact legacy has on families and on victims – I understand that, but my primary responsibility is to prevent more victims occurring, to keep people safe today."
Mr Hamilton said cutting any of the PSNI's almost 7,000 officers would be his last resort.
But he warned discretionary spending – such as funds to support community groups – could be hit.
The PSNI has an annual budget of around £1.2bn, but more than a third of that is fixed costs.
Mr Hamilton's operating budget of £740m for this year was down £47m on 2013/14 and he has already implemented around £15m worth of in-year cuts since April.
After another round of Stormont budget cuts were announced last month, he told board members he was now scenario planning for further spending reductions of £11m, at best, or £25m, at worst.
That will mean the PSNI has to shoulder a £73m cut this financial year or an £88m cut.