Police in Northern Ireland will have to rely on support from colleagues in Great Britain on a more regular basis if a looming multimillion-pound resources crisis is not tackled, the region's chief constable has warned.
Matt Baggott called in more than 1,000 mutual aid officers from England, Scotland and Wales this summer to help his officers cope with serious public disorder linked to the marching disputes.
But the Police Service of Northern Ireland's top officer today told his oversight body - the NI Policing Board - that future budget cuts may require him to call in back-up from Great Britain on an ongoing basis. He said a £26 million budget shortfall facing the PSNI next year was the first major gap that needed bridged.
"If we get to the point of reducing numbers, as I suspect we may if the budget continues the way it is, then I will have mutual aid camped here," he told Policing Board members at a meeting in Omagh, Co Tyrone.
"Now I don't want to do that, and neither do you - that's not good for Northern Ireland."
Mr Baggott said budget constraints had already seen the PSNI's desired officer total of 7,000 fall to 6,800 during the last year, and warned it could drop to 6,400 in the coming years if more funding was not obtained.
His comments come as the PSNI revealed the uptake to its first recruitment drive in almost four years.
Almost 7,500 would-be policemen and women applied for an initial 100 new posts. The PSNI wants to recruit nearly 400 more officers, but that will require funding from Stormont's Department of Justice.
The PSNI has seen its numbers almost halved in a decade as a result of peace process policing reforms recommended by former Hong Kong governor Lord Patten.
But Mr Baggott claimed the service's ability to tackle crime would be impacted if there were any further reductions in manpower.
The PSNI has an annual operating budget of around £1.2 billion.
Explaining the pressures on the coffers to board members, the Chief Constable highlighted the additional funding - around £10 million - it had to find this year to fund the police's specialist unit dealing with unsolved Troubles murders - the Historical Enquiries Team (HET). In previous years the department of justice funded the HET directly.
He also pointed to the resource and finance implications of policing ongoing public order issues, such as the volatile loyalist disputes over parades and flags, and the requirements of security checking and disclosing millions of documents required for legacy inquests.
There were 7,493 applications submitted over the past three weeks for the new PSNI roles.
Less than a third (30.6%) of the applications came from Catholics compared with 66.7% from Protestants. Women made up 35% of the responses, significantly fewer than the 64.8% from men.
The officers' representative body - the Policing Federation - shares the concerns of Mr Baggott in regard to resources.
While it welcomed the latest recruitment drive, its chairman, Terry Spence, said an additional 1,000 officers were needed to deal with the severe threat from dissident republicans and the ongoing parading disputes.
Mr Spence also claimed frontline officers were fatigued and suffering from burnout.
"One hundred is a drop in the ocean," he said.
"There should be at least 1,000 above and beyond what (Lord) Patten recommended. Patten said there should be 7,500 for a peaceful scenario where the paramilitaries have disbanded and decommissioned their weapons."
The 100 successful recruits will attend the police college at Garnerville on the outskirts of east Belfast for 21 weeks of intensive training that includes practical and operational policing skills.
A merit list of potential candidates will be retained until March 2015.
The PSNI hopes to recruit a further 378 student officers at a later date.