More than 2,000 of the country's most experienced police officers could be forced to retire by 2015 as forces try to cut costs, according to Labour.

Although police officers cannot be made redundant, officers with 30 or more years' experience can be made to retire under existing regulations.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was "deeply worrying" 13 forces had decided to use them in some form.

Ministers have said savings can be made without affecting front-line policing.

Police budgets are being cut by 20% over the next four years, with a 4% cut in the first year and 5% the year after. But ministers insist these savings are achievable by cutting bureaucracy and more efficient use of resources, including forces sharing some back-office functions.

Fully sworn police officers are servants of the Crown, not employees, so they cannot be made redundant under existing laws.

However, forces are able to get permission to use a regulation known as A19 to make officers with 30 years' experience or more retire early.

'Unacceptable risks'

Labour said details obtained under Freedom of Information showed 13 forces definitely intended to use this power and that 1,138 officers either have or will be forced to retire by 2015.

Another 986 officers could also be affected, the opposition have suggested, if other forces decided to proceed on the same basis.

"Some of these officers are the experts in their fields and internationally respected for what they do in the fight against crime," Ms Cooper said.

"The home secretary must realise that you cannot make 20% frontloaded cuts to the police without losing the very crime fighters we need. The home secretary is taking unacceptable risks with public safety and the continued fight against crime."

In November, the Home Office said 3,200 officers in England and Wales could be affected if all forces chose to enforce the compulsory retirement rule.

Home Office sources have said it is a matter for individual forces how staff are managed but they believe forces should be able to identify enough savings to ensure the budget cuts have no effect on the level of service the public receives.

'Crude tool'

One of the officers forced to retire under the A19 rule told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was a "crude tool" to reduce staff numbers.

"I am one of the people who turn up at the front line," said Sergeant Dave Hewitt, 48, who finishes with the West Midlands Police on April 1 after a career spanning 32 years.

"In the West Midlands it's affecting ranks from chief superintendent to police constable and it is affecting the top end where you've got a lot of experience, a lot of quality officers."

West Midlands Police told the programme the decision to use the A19 regulation had been difficult, but a spokesman said the number of officers affected by the rule was relatively small, amounting to 649 - out of a force of 8,500 officers - over four years.

About 95% of officers who reached 30 years' service retired anyway, he added, and the force would ensure safeguards were in place for succession planning and passing on key skills.

Last month, Labour said its research suggested at least 10,190 uniformed police officer posts were set to disappear by the end of next year in England and Wales as part of cuts.

Policing minister Nick Herbert said he did not accept the figures, adding it was the effectiveness of officers not their total numbers that counted.

Article from BBC News