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The Police Commissioner's Office has started warning affected units that part of the fleet is to be axed as a cost-cutting measure, a source told the Herald yesterday.

The directive had "come from the top" and was "non-negotiable".

The Herald understands it could mean as much as 10 per cent of the fleet being taken off the nation's roads.

The force has 3397 frontline vehicles - including prisoner vans and motorbikes - so more than 300 could be cut and not replaced.

A spokesman for Commissioner Howard Broad said he would not comment on the matter.

The Police Association warned the public to brace itself for a reduced service given that resources were already "very lean" - particularly when compared to other countries.

President Greg O'Connor could not confirm the exact number of vehicles to be cut, but was aware the significant cost-cutting being arranged for the police included a reduction in the fleet.

"And we have seen what happens before when people are not getting the service they need. Failures in the police very quickly get to the front page of the paper."

Mr O'Connor said the axing could only lead to a reduction in service to the public.

Some "nostalgic views" that police could simply patrol on foot were logistically flawed, he said. "As desirable as that [idea] may well be for people ... to turn up to a violent domestic incident or when you have a problem at three o'clock in the morning, or an aggravated robbery ... that's something you need a vehicle for."

Mr O'Connor questioned how the fleet cut correlated with National's pre-election promise to put another 50 police cars on the streets.

"We are not naive. We all know there's an economic crisis and that everyone has to do their bit. But if we are going to do this, then the public better be ready for a reduced service because it can only mean that."

Police minister Judith Collins said last night that the reduction in the fleet would not hamper the police's ability to fight crime.

"[In the May Budget] police were allocated $162.5 million extra in funding for operational matters and $10 million in funding for Tasers.

"We are in the worst economic times in 70 years and the police have identified a place they could make some savings knowing that they were also getting significant extra resourcing. "I've been assured that it will not impact greatly on their ability to do the job.

"They've made their own call on what they should be spending their resourcing on and I'm going to take their advice that that is the best use of the money."

The $162.5 million over four years is to fund the recruitment of 600 new officers.

Association vice-president Stuart Mills said when it was announced that the overall police budget had not increased.

"That means police are not being funded to match inflation-related cost pressures, or allow for fair pay movements.

"That means, despite the new staff, this will be a tough year."