Police Scotland will slow officer recruitment and cut staff roles as the force tries to save £188 million over the next few years.
Chief Constable Phil Gormley has announced plans to maintain officer numbers for 2017/18 but cut approximately 400 positions between 2018 and 2020.
The force will also reduce the number of staff working in its corporate and business support functions, and will divert more officers to operational roles.
The plans, contained in Police Scotland’s Policing 2026 strategy, will prioritise visible policing and meeting the changing needs of communities.
Launching a consultation on the strategy on Monday (February 27), Mr Gormley said it has “never been more important” to understand the demand on policing.
“Policing in Scotland has gone through significant transition; it is proudly one of the oldest public services in the world,” he said.
“Now the service must transform to realise and release the full benefits of being a single organisation.
“Local policing will remain at the heart of what we do, supported by a wide range of specialist capabilities.”
Police Scotland faces a £60 million budget deficit in 2017/18, and was recently criticised by Audit Scotland for weak financial leadership.
To help make this saving, the force intends to cut its corporate and business support functions, which it claims have never been properly restructured to fit the single service model introduced in 2013.
The strategy also revealed plans to maximise efficiency by moving officers from backroom responsibilities to work on the frontline and by investing in technology.
By 2026, Police Scotland estimates that 80 per cent of officers’ work will be conducted away from the station, allowing them to spend more time in the community.
Mr Gormley believes that this approach will help officers meet the evolving demands on policing, which are becoming more focused on vulnerability.
Police staff will also be tasked with helping fight the emerging threat of cybercrime, and the workforce will receive more training on preventing this offence.
The force will also invest in staff wellbeing, work more effectively with partners, introduce new contact tools for the public and increase the diversity of its workforce.
The consultation will run for ten weeks and will help reform the overall strategy.
Andrew Flanagan, chair of the Scottish Police Authority, said: “From a position of strength, we need to ensure that Police Scotland adapts to these changes and has the range of skills and capacity to deal with growing demand and that we do so in a financially sustainable way.
“Policing is a vital public service and it is essential that we listen to those we wish to serve to ensure we meet their expectations.
“Through this consultation we are asking for everyone to provide their views on the approach outlined today and I would urge as many people as possible to take part.”
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Alongside this Government’s commitment to protect the police resource budget for each year of this parliament, we have provided an enhanced £61 million reform budget for 2017-18 to support the transformational change outlined in this draft strategy.
“While our Programme for Government is clear about the need to consider the right mix of skills and not just overall numbers, the public will always be interested in the number of police officers on the beat.
“We will pay particular attention to these issues before approval of the final strategy. In all circumstances, I would expect to see the number of police officers remaining significantly above the number we inherited in 2007.
“Indeed, our enhanced funding gives police the platform to invest in the wider workforce, technology and other resources to keep communities safe.
“Scotland’s police service is working well, with recorded crime at its lowest level since 1974, clear-up rates at a 40-year high, while public confidence remains strong.
“But as those who prey on our communities seek to exploit new opportunities, and as the needs and vulnerabilities of our population change, so Police Scotland must embrace new approaches.”