Hundreds of experienced officers could be lost as police chiefs "abuse" the system by taking advantage of a loophole which enables them to force officers to retire, the Police Federation said today.
Three police authorities have already backed the cost-cutting move and more are expected to follow, the union which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales said.
Under regulation A19, which is contained in the Police Pensions Regulations 1987, officers who have served 30 years or more can be "required to retire" if their retention would "not be in the general interests of efficiency".
It applies to all police below chief officer rank, regardless of ability or age.
But Simon Reed, the federation's vice-chairman, said the regulation was designed to enable forces to remove the odd officer who, having been in the job for 30 years or more, was perhaps cruising and not performing efficiently.
"It's never been designed to force hundreds, maybe thousands of officers, to go," he said.
"It's a very blunt instrument for that. Chief officers have abused the system to get it to do what they want."
Mr Reed went on: "All forces will be considering this and there will be more that will implement it.
"All that chief officers are doing is getting the backing of the police authorities to do it. At the end of the day it's the chief officers who are making the decisions on this."
So far, North Wales, Strathclyde and Surrey police authorities have all backed the plan in principle.
"We think it's not the way to do it at all," Mr Reed said.
"We're going to lose huge amounts of experienced officers across all the roles they perform.
"While chief officers will be immune, everyone else from officers on the street to those in specialist teams such as child protection or experienced detectives could all be affected.
"We're going to lose all this experience. They're doing it purely to try to save money."
Up to 300 officers could be eligible for forced retirement in the West Midlands, the country's second largest force, alone, he said.
The police service needs to cut its wage bill after the Government said funding will fall by 20% over the next four years.
The spending cuts, coupled with the forced retirements, mean "the future is challenging and very depressing for the police", Mr Reed said.
The North Wales branch of the Police Federation said 53 officers had been told they could go by April and "probably up to 250 officers over the next four years", according to BBC News.
Shadow home secretary Ed Balls said the Government was putting chief constables and police authorities "in an impossible position".
"This blunt instrument was never intended for this purpose and, where implemented, will mean all officers above the 30 year threshold being forced to retire.
"It will mean losing some of our most experienced people from the police service.
"The public are rightly concerned that losing thousands of police officers will undermine the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour."
A Strathclyde Police Authority spokeswoman said its members "widely acknowledged that regulation A19 is something we hoped would never have to be implemented".
"However, the financial situation is such that it does have to be enforced," she said.
"The authority approved the use of A19 as a legitimate way of tackling the budgetary issues.
"A paper will now be prepared for the authority's pension sub-committee, at a date to be confirmed, which will seek to apply the policy to those who meet the criteria, i.e. those Strathclyde-funded officers who have accrued 30 years pensionable service."
She added: "The force will be contacting everyone who will be affected by the enforcement of A19 so that we can explain in more detail how it will work."
The decision was taken at a police authority meeting on October 21, she said.
A Home Office spokeswoman said the issue of whether to implement regulation A19 or not was a matter for individual forces.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said chief constables "have difficult choices ahead".
Chief Constable Peter Fahy, the Acpo lead on workforce development, said: "The reality is that significant cash savings must be made by April 1 next year, while the police service must do all it can to protect the front line as far as possible.
"As part of this, some forces are looking at their options around workplace efficiency.
"Decisions are a matter for individual chief officers and their local police authorities to consider in the best interests of the communities they serve."
A series of charities also criticised the plans.
Michelle Mitchell, director of Age UK, said the move "flies right in the face of equality legislation and runs contrary to the Government's plan to abolish forced retirement".
"The huge pressure to slash budgets is no justification for bypassing basic equality principles which should withstand even the toughest economic and political environment," she said.
And Chris Ball, chief executive of The Age and Employment Network, described the plans as "naked ageism".
"Offering incentives for people to retire is one thing, forcing them to do so is another," he said.
"We hope there will be legal challenge to this attempt to use officers' age and length of service against them."
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