HONG KONG'S beleaguered police force is to be boosted by nearly 3,000 new recruits in a bid to counter an expected exodus of officers before 1997. The 2,709 extra staff will include 1,907 officers and 802 civilian administrators - a move estimated to cost taxpayers about $420 million. The news was released as new Fight Crime Committee (FCC) figures showed an alarming 41.6 per cent increase in the number of police officers assaulted. There was also a 7.6 per cent rise in the number of crimes reported. The manpower report is scheduled for discussion by the Legislative Council's security panel on May 8. Panel chairman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said the new figures, which also showed a dramatic 37.5 per cent increase in bank robberies, underlined the need for extra officers on the streets. 'We are incredibly pleased by this announcement. It is long overdue, but very much welcomed,' she said. 'Hong Kong is an incredibly safe place for people to live, but these figures show we still have some way to go.' But what remains unclear is how the force is going to find extra beat officers at a time when maintaining numbers is proving increasingly difficult. In the past two years, 224 officers and 1,874 constables have left the force. Currently, police strength is 27,548 officers and constables. Chief Superintendent Eric Lockeyear said the announcement was based on a two-year study of force needs. However, he denied the force automatically faced losing men in the run-up to 1997 and said the signs for recruitment were favourable. This contradicts views by the majority of police staff associations, which have regularly voiced concerns about falling morale and growing numbers quitting the force. Last year, the Government provided $145 million for the 1995-96 budget to allow police to deploy an extra 400 beat police and another 80 officers to tackle organised and drug-related crimes. Last week, New Territories police expressed concern that more officers were needed to fight rising drug-related crime in areas such as Tuen Mun. Police Commissioner Eddie Hui Ki-on has fought for extra police to be recruited and has cited possible changes in the political and social landscape as reasons for an expanded profile. A police spokesman said the rise in assaults on officers was 'very worrying', but added that recruits know when they enter the force that being attacked is a risk of the job. 'Police officers have to deal with a varying amount of undesirables in their day-to-day job and this can, and often does, end in violence.' From January to March, 252 officers were attacked, compared with 178 in the same period last year. But Secretary for Security Peter Lai Hing-ling said he was unconcerned. 'There is no evidence which causes us concern and the police force will remain as vigilant as ever,' he said. 'I am absolutely confident members of the police force will do their best to combat crime.' FCC statistics showed 21,645 offences were reported during the first quarter of 1995. This meant an additional 1,529 crimes (an increase of 7.6 per cent) were committed compared with the same period last year.