SCOTLAND’S police service has made considerable progress in the recruitment of female officers over the past decade. From a position where fewer than one in five officers were women in 2003, now nearly 30 per cent are.
In promoted posts, women now account for 20 per cent of all positions, up from just 8 per cent in 2003. And across civilian police staff, women hold around two-thirds of all jobs.
But there are fears all this progress could be eroded by the creation of the country’s new single force, Police Scotland.
Last week, a retiring superintendent claimed officers had lost their “mobility protection” since the force came into being on 1 April, 2013.
Superintendent Alex Duncan said the protection, which had existed under the previous regional structure, meant officers feared promotion could see them sent to another part of the country, putting those with caring commitments off any form of career advancement.
Police Scotland denied mobility protection had been scrapped, but Supt Duncan’s comments won backing from the Scottish Women’s Development Forum (SWDF), a police staff association which advises the force on gender equality issues.
The SWDF didn’t pull its punches, saying officers “did not trust” Police Scotland. Its chair, Chief Superintendent Angela Wilson, said police reforms risked creating a “workforce of clones”, with only those who are “footloose and fancy free” able to go for promotion.
Gender is a big issue for the police. A force where white men hold most of the officer posts and all but a handful of the most senior positions is not one which can justifiably claim to represent the diverse communities it serves.
Last week, Chief Constable Stephen House denied that public confidence in Police Scotland is falling, saying the force had not been affected by a series of scandals – most notably the handling of the inquiries into the Hillsborough disaster and the murder of Stephen Lawrence – which have helped undermine the faith in policing in England.
But if his own officers cannot trust Police Scotland, as SWDF claims, then where does that leave the rest of us?
The issue of female officers was raised after a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the role of stop and search.
Police Scotland claims to have carried out around 600,000 stop and searches in the past year. Either one in ten of the Scottish population has been stopped, or the same people are being targeted over and over again.
With trust in the police at a worrying low south of the Border, Police Scotland can’t afford teething problems to affect community relations. Ensuring the force recruits, retains and promotes more female officers is a good place to start.