OPINION: Where do we draw the thin blue line?

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The numbers are almost beyond belief when you first see them.

Over the next five years, one in three people employed by South Yorkshire Police will lose their jobs.

If predictions are right, the size of the constabulary will have been cut in half over the course of this decade.

There’s no doubt that just about any organisation can be made to work more efficiently and can find ways to cut costs.

But the budget savings being asked of our police force look less like trimming some excess fat and more like cutting down to the bone – and then right through it.

Not surprisingly, bosses admit that the scale of these intended cutbacks could potentially put community safety in South Yorkshire at risk.

And the projection of job losses is only a ‘best-case scenario’ – the situation could look even more dire depending on the impact of other financial pressures the force is facing.

The final bill for the legal costs of former officers involved in the Hillsborough inquests, and coping with the repercussions of the fallout from the Rotherham child grooming scandal, is still not known.

Another massive drain on our coppers’ coffers is the cost of having to police major demonstrations that have been staged in the region.

The latest financial report says that around £4 million has been spent policing marches in Rotherham and Sheffield by groups such as the English Defence League and Britain First in the past three years.

This massive cost has led South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Crompton to call for an end to such protests.

We all should value freedom of expression and the right to express opinion – even if we don’t agree with what is being said. The right to protest is a vital part of democracy that should never be taken for granted.

But what if the price of defending that liberty for some, threatens the safety of us all? Where would you rather see police money spent – controlling crowds or catching crooks?

If the actual scale of the police force job losses is anything like that being predicted, these are the difficult decisions we will have to make.

Cuts as big as this cannot come without consequences or the thin blue line will simply fall into a budgeting deep black hole.