Police and the public need to "bite the bullet" and accept that the only way to keep frontline officers is to make cuts elsewhere - meaning more work for some, and less response to "non-urgent" crime.
A top North Island officer yesterday said job- and cost-cutting was inevitable in any government organisation, and the police force was no different.
He said police were "lucky" they had not had to lose sworn officers, and should focus on what they had.
He spoke out after claims by retiring Northland area commander Inspector Paul Dimery that police were being run like a business and cuts to non-sworn staff were stretching frontline officers too thin.
Mr Dimery believed frontline police safety was being "compromised" and accused management of putting finance before people.
He also said Northland was "totally under-resourced" and officers were constantly required to take work that prevented them from focusing on cutting and preventing crime.
Police Commissioner Peter Marshall rejected Mr Dimery's claims, saying the police force was a "service" but it needed to be run in a business-like fashion because of "tough economic times".
He said good crime reduction results were being recorded across the country, and plans such as the expansion of the Crime Reporting Line would push more police out of the office and on to the streets.
A senior officer, who did not want his name published, said the staffing situation in Northland was no different from any other district.
Every area had had to cut non-sworn staff in a bid to prevent losing frontline officers. The downside was that the work those non-sworn staff were doing had to be absorbed by officers.
It was not an ideal situation, he said, but it was better than losing trained police.
"A lot of police staff are used to the way things were. But now we're facing what other people are facing in other government organisations and they are finding that hard. I think we have to go with the changes and carry on.
"That means there will be a small reduction in the level of non-urgent service. But we have to bite the bullet ... Some people are going to have to take up some extra work, there are some jobs that will have to be covered by sworn officers. Because of that the public are going to have to expect a lower standard of non-urgent service than they have had in the past.
"The commissioner says police is not a business, but it's run like one - and it has to be. If I thought the public were going to do it hard, I would speak out. I think Paul Dimery has spoken from the heart ... but I don't think it's fair to go off on that tangent."
Police Association president Greg O'Connor said Mr Dimery's comments reflected what other district and area commanders were telling him.
"They are concerned that the gains they have made [in crime reduction] are at risk to say the least," he said.
"At the same time as they are having to ensure their staff remain engaged, they are having to implement these cost cuts. They really are getting it from both sides. That's the real pressure that's being felt by these guys."
Mr O'Connor said it was not the first time police had faced this issue.
"It's happened in the past, and we'll see more of this. Some non-sworn roles disappear but the taskings don't disappear. Someone still has to do it."
He said Mr Dimery's comments should be taken seriously by national headquarters. "I've known Paul for many years and he's a straight shooter. He's always been like that, he calls a spade a spade. He wouldn't say this if he didn't believe it."
Although Mr Marshall rejected Mr Dimery's claims, he did not want that to "water down" the difficulties police faced each day and commended their efforts.
"I wish to stress that policing is an innately dangerous and difficult job and that is a common factor of law enforcement work throughout the world. New Zealand Police officers, through their dealing with uncertainty and volatile situations, serve the people of this country extremely well."
In a blog posted last night Mr Marshall went on to say there was never any shortage of opinion about the way police operated.
"But we can take it," he wrote.
"Police is unlike any other organisation - we're on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, dealing with everything from national security and natural disaster to lost property and stray dogs ... I don't seek to make excuses - this is the reality of policing in New Zealand and around the world. Police do remarkable work every day, showing initiative, courage and compassion."By Anna Leask @AnnaLeask Email Anna