MORE than 200 police officers could be forced to retire in North Yorkshire over the next four years as police chiefs try to save millions of pounds.

North Yorkshire Police has agreed to implement a regulation which allows it to demand the retirement of officers with 30 or more years’ service, with 29 set to go by the end of March next year.

But the move has been branded “extremely devastating and demoralising” and offering “a Christmas for criminals” by an organisation which represents officers and which has said it may take legal action over the plans.

The compulsory retirement of long-serving officers is allowed under Regulation A19 and its use by North Yorkshire Police comes after it agreed to allow staff to take voluntary redundancy. The force is aiming to save £6.2 million this year and is set to see its budgets for future years stretched further by the Government spending squeeze.

Of the 210 officers the rule will affect, 105 are constables, 58 are sergeants and 33 are inspectors, with seven chief inspectors, four superintendents and three chief superintendents also leaving early.

Of the 210, 31 officers will retire in 2011/12, with 68 going the year after, 39 in 2013/14 and 43 in 2014/15, and Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell said using the regulation had the potential to save the force more than £11 million.

He described it as “unfortunate” and “a move I never hoped to make”, but said it would provide the force with “an extra tool in the toolbox” to help it balance its budget and make the savings necessary while not hitting frontline policing.

“We will continue to endeavour to ensure that policing in North Yorkshire and York is delivered in the best possible way,” he said.

Jane Kenyon, who chairs North Yorkshire Police Authority, whose full meeting saw the decision rubber-stamped yesterday, said services and backroom personnel would take the initial force of the rule’s implementation.

But North Yorkshire Police Federation chief Mark Botham said the decision was “premature” and could have been delayed.

He said: “The timing, just before Christmas, could not be worse. I have no doubt this will mean a Christmas for criminals. We are not opposed to the use of Regulation A19, but to use in it the manner set out is something we have serious concerns about.”

Mr Botham said the cost of police officers in North Yorkshire was below the national average and the force’s overtime costs were the second lowest in the country, and has called for a public debate on the issue. He also said legal action was a possibility.