YORKSHIRE'S police service is mired in the deepest funding crisis in its history, with chief constables preparing to target crime-solving units and slash thousands of jobs to overcome a budget black hole of almost £200m.
Cuts to major crime investigation, roads policing, CCTV surveillance and intelligence units are being considered as the Government slashes grants to the region's police forces by 20 per cent in real terms over the next four years.
More than two-thirds of the savings must be found by 2012-13 – when Britain's security services will be most stretched because of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the London Olympics.
Further funding pressures may emerge from a nationwide review of police pay and conditions, due to report to Home Secretary Theresa May later this year.
Yorkshire already has the fastest-shrinking officer strength in England and Wales and is particularly vulnerable because three of its forces are among the country's 10 most reliant on central funding.
Government grants accounted for 80 per cent of South Yorkshire's funding this year, while West Yorkshire (78 per cent) and Humberside (74.3 per cent) also depended heavily on central support. North Yorkshire, by contrast, raised more than two-fifths of its finance through council tax.
West Yorkshire, which is scaling back roads policing and intelligence units, must save 90m over the next four years and has plans to cut its workforce by between 1,500 and 2,000, a third of whom will be warranted officers.
Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison said the crisis Was "unprecedented", although the force had seen standstill budgets in the past and had occasionally needed to make cuts in order to pay for specialist units.
"We have had to rob Peter to pay Paul, but we have never ever in my experience had to plan to shrink the organisation," he added. "The size of the change that faces us is huge."
Sir Norman also warned of a long-term impact of cuts to agencies working with vulnerable people in areas like child welfare, mental health and drug addiction.
Confidential documents seen by the Yorkshire Post reveal South Yorkshire Police has considered removing 103 officer posts and 278 staff positions next year, with cuts to CCTV surveillance and major incident investigation together with the closure of public enquiry desks.
Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes said the decision to impose the same funding cut percentage on every force, regardless of the unique policing challenges each face, was a "very simplistic calculation".
"Two hundred police officer posts have gone in the last year and we have still managed to deliver excellent performance," he said. "We therefore now face a difficult time of making cuts and, although we are confident of delivering a balanced budget for next year, beyond 2011 the position is more doubtful."
North Yorkshire Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell warned council cuts to leisure provision and Government plans to lock up fewer criminals would create new challenges. "We have examples where the local authority doesn't open the swimming pool for free and we have kids who can't afford the 2.50 out on the streets to cause us problems. It's the police who have to step in to help people in vulnerable conditions and, if people aren't going to prison, they're out on the streets. That must have an impact."
Humberside Chief Constable Tim Hollis voiced concern the deepest cuts would coincide with the Olympics and the introduction of elected policing and crime commissioners, warning a reduced service would impact on public confidence.
Chris Jenkinson, regional organiser for the Unison trade union with responsibility for South Yorkshire Police, predicted crime would rise as a result of the cuts. "We are not going to see CCTV cameras removed," he said, "but it will quickly become known that there is nobody at the other end of the line."
West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Michael Downes said: "Any attempt to maintain front-line policing at its current level while removing back office functions is impossible.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office declined to comment on operational decisions taken by individual police forces.
A fuller report appears in Saturday's Yorkshire Post