POLICE yesterday denied that a near 10 per cent shortage of officers on the beat was a threat to law and order. But they acknowledged there could be a long-term problem. Deputy Commissioner for Police Benny Ng Ching-kwok told legislators the 9.2 per cent shortfall was because of inadequate leave and training reserves. Mr Ng said an extra 1,494 officers were needed, at a cost to taxpayers of $202 million. He said the problem was being dealt with by careful allocation of staff. 'For example, for a region which is relatively quiet at night, we allocate less officers to inspect the area at night and more in the morning. 'But we still need to respond to sudden events, such as the need to manage boat people detention centres over the past few years, by sending more officers as cover,' he said. He said the situation would be difficult to deal with in the long run especially if the crime rate increased. According to the report, there was a 50 to 60 per cent shortfall in some regions such as New Territories North and South in May last year. But the situation has since improved slightly. Mr Ng said that taking into account the $145 million funding given by the Government to create an additional 838 position in the 1995-96 financial year, would solve part of the problem. 'If the request for the 1,494 extra positions is allowed, the problem can be solve completely.' But to maintain efficiency, it was necessary to carry out regular manning studies, he said. Democratic Party Legislator Cheung Man-kwong welcomed the official admission about the existing shortfall, but urged management to promise the extra staff would be used properly. He said the Government should give the Finance Committee a detailed breakdown of the extra staff to be used - for example how many would be deployed on the frontline work.