My biggest regret.. still far too many road deaths
AFTER five years as chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, Paddy Tomkins has just left the force to take up the post of Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland. He spent time reflecting on his years in charge of the Capital's police.
1. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as chief constable?
In such a busy and diverse force area it would be difficult pick out a single event as the force has been faced with many and varied challenges over the past five years, not all of them operational. Sometimes reforming an organisation or building real partnerships with other agencies can be every bit as demanding as an operational challenge. If pressed to choose a single operational event it would be the policing of the demonstrations associated with the G8 summit in 2005. The fantastic success of Scotland’s largest ever public order event - the Make Poverty History March - where the police received many compliments for the way in which we set a happy and positive mood for lawful protest while dealing with a small, potentially disruptive minority quickly and professionally was a great source of professional satisfaction for us all. This contrasted with the subsequent violent and destructive behaviour of a number of so-called protesters who had nothing but contempt for the City and its communities. Lothian and Borders Police stood, quite literally, shoulder to shoulder with colleagues from across the UK and showed themselves to be equal to the very best.
On the morning of Thursday 7 July we were in the control room at Fettes, listening to reports of the bombings in London, when an Inspector and Sergeant from the Met’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) - the world leaders in managing public order - came into the room. After scanning the room and seeing my rank insignia the Inspector approached me and said in a broad East End accent, “Excuse me Guv’ but I’m looking for a senior officer and I guess you’ll do.” He took a moment to glance at the pictures from Sky News and CNN on the video monitors before continuing: “We’ve got to go back [to London] now but I just wanted to tell you that it’s been a pleasure to work in Edinburgh this week. Your public order guys and girls know what they’re doing, your radio controllers (support staff from the FCC) are excellent and I would work under the command of your Superintendents anytime. You don’t need us.” With that and leaving me only a moment to say ‘thanks and good luck’ he left for London.
I knew from my time in the Met that compliments do not fall easily from the mouths of ground commanders in the TSG and that such praise for colleagues in L&B was undoubtedly well-earned and richly deserved. L&B had been tested and found to be up to the highest standards. I was very proud and not a little moved, quickly sharing the feedback with the force - along with my thanks and those of many people across the City and beyond.
2. What do you regard as your greatest achievement?
Giving the outstanding people who are members of Lothian and Borders Police the space and encouragement to realise their potential. I have been characterised as a reformer, driving major change in the force, but the reality is that the vision, ability and ambition to take on radical change was already here. I’ve just listened to people for whom I have the greatest professional respect and provided them with the support to do what they know to be necessary, as well as providing a degree of top cover when things don’t always go smoothly - as is often the case with anything that is new, complicated and really worth doing. Sadly there are always some people, both within the force and beyond, who will sit on the sidelines and offer criticism without being prepared to take on the challenge or responsibility themselves.
A former chief constable of mine once told me that he believed the key to success in leading a large organisation was to pick good people, let them know what you want them to achieve and then trust them to get on with it. It was good advice.
3. What has been your biggest disappointment in the post?
Despite the reduction of road casualties being a key operational priority for the force, and despite all the hard work we put in with local authorities and other partners, nearly 200 people have died on the roads of Lothian and Borders over the past five years, nine of them children and two of them my colleagues; over 2,350 people have been seriously injured in the same period. The indescribable pain, loss and cost to wider society can hardly be overstated yet we, as a society, continue to appear to regard these dreadful statistics as just an unfortunate cost of access to individual transport. The Evening News would rightly devote many column inches to such loss if it arose from violence but these crashes often merit no more than a paragraph or two on an inner page.
I have sat with bereaved families in the immediate aftermath of such tragedies and sometimes wish that the self-styled ‘law-abiding and tax-paying motorists’ who write to me to complain that they have been caught speeding by a mobile safety camera van that was positioned ‘unfairly’, or who treat my road policing colleagues to the glib question ‘shouldn’t you be catching real criminals?’ could see the outcome of the circumstances that come together to cause death on our roads.
If more time were spent on learning advanced driving skills rather than composing letters as to why speed in itself does not kill (no, but impact does and it is a matter of physics rather than opinion that a heavy metal object will create more damage the higher the speed at which it impacts with another object) then our roads would be safer. It is quite plain from the standard of driving that I and my colleagues see on our roads on a daily basis that far too many people have not improved since their initial driving test; that speed limits, braking distances and the need for a clear view before overtaking do not apply to them; that very few have even the sketchiest idea of the physical forces acting on a vehicle in motion and still fewer seem to think it matters.
I have often read in your letters pages that some people feel that ‘the police should not be able to choose the laws they enforce’. Well, the same is true for obedience to road traffic law. If you don’t want to be caught for speeding, driving while using a mobile phone, drink driving… Don’t do it.
4. Your successor, David Strang, has indicated his desire for more "grass roots" policing? Do you believe that has been something that has been lacking from Lothian and Borders in recent years with the restructuring that has taken place?
Policing is something we do with people, not to people and whether our priorities are national security or antisocial behaviour they can only be tackled with the support of local communities.
‘Grassroots’ or community/partnership policing has always been a key component in the strategy to police the Capital and while the creation of ‘A’ Division in 2003 introduced significant changes the role and emphasis on the importance of the contribution made by the 58 Community Beat Officers was retained. Refinements to the new structure in 2005 reinforced this stance and saw Patrol Officers relocated to individual stations and redesignated Community Patrol Officers to underscore their connection with local communities.
2003 to 2006 marked the phased introduction of 72 police officers, funded by the City of Edinburgh Council and designated as Safer Communities Units (SCU) and Youth Action Teams (YAT). The remit of the teams is to supplement Community Beat Officers and to tackle antisocial behaviour and issues affecting young people in local communities. These teams remain at the forefront of partnership working and have been widely praised across the UK and beyond as an example of good practice. Many are co-located within local communities alongside colleagues from the City of Edinburgh Council and other professional and voluntary bodies to provide a comprehensive, cohesive community focused approach to policing.
In the coming year, existing funded officers will be redistributed to maximise their impact and an additional 12 funded posts will be created. All of these officers, who along with our Community Beat Officers total 142, perform roles that connect them directly to the community, involving them in work with partners, often directly relating to interacting and working with young people.
April 2007 will bring about changes to local authority boundaries and, to reinforce the continuing commitment to partnership policing and communities, existing police boundaries will be realigned to retain coterminosity with the local authority and to secure joined-up local service delivery. Change will include the establishment of six Neighbourhood Areas across the Capital and the implementation of the Capital Partnership Model. The Model will be driven by a monthly ‘tasking and co-ordinating’ meeting where police and Council managers will sit together and ensure that local resources and activities are focused and driven by local priorities. The Model will assimilate Community and Police Partnerships (CAPP), which will enhance local engagement by allowing Community Beat Officers to be directly tasked by the community.
Edinburgh communities are now more diverse than ever. Although crime has fallen and more crimes have been detected this year, people still require visible reassurance. This will be achieved through dedicated officers working in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and other partner agencies to identify local solutions to local problems.
Grassroots policing is continually evolving with new initiatives regularly being implemented. Only a few days ago it was announced that Tynecastle and Boroughmuir High Schools will pilot police School Liaison Officers, who will be based on school premises to work positively with pupils, parents and staff.
Hard work by the police divisional commander for Edinburgh, Chief Superintendent George Simpson, over the past four months has produced a Resource Review which will serve to provide our communities with the best ‘grass roots’ police service we can.
5. The force's budget for the next three years from the Scottish Executive has been described as "tight". Is enough funding provided for Lothian and Borders given that the force faces the special challenges involved in policing the capital?
I would be interested to meet any chief executive in the public sector who feels they are being given ‘enough funding’, as you put it. I’m no economist but I know that the public purse is not depthless, that we as voters do not habitually go into the polling booth to offer up further taxes and that demand grows as society becomes more diverse, more mobile, more long-lived and more sophisticated in approaching public services in the same way that we as consumers choose between commercial products. We want more police officers, smaller class sizes, shorter hospital waiting lists, more dentists, better equipped armed forces and so on but we can only have more of one if we have less of another. The alternatives are to increase the size of the cake overall - a challenge for politcians not police officers - or to find new ways of working to make more of what we have. The latter is central to my new role: ensuring that Scotland has the most effective and efficient police service in the UK.
We have successfully argued our case in terms of the particular responsibilities of policing Scotland’s capital and, while we have not received all that we asked for, an important principle has been established and accepted. I am sure David Strang will continue to use this as a platform on which to negotiate for the future.
More dramatically and more successfully we have built on the excellent working relationship with the City of Edinburgh Council made possible by the creation of a single City division (‘A’ Division) of the police force under a single commander. This is where the future lies in my view, closer and closer collaborative working across geographical boundaries and between very different organisations. Edinburgh is in the very forefront of this work, the Youth Action Teams, Safer Communities Teams and the joint family protection work between the City of Edinburgh Council, Lothian NHS and L&B Police are all examples of that are being looked to not just across the UK but from overseas as well.
Edinburgh is now also following the outstanding example of the police, Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service, Shrieval Bench, Scottish Courts Service, defence agents and the Council of West Lothian in completely redesigning the summary criminal justice system. West Lothian has shown us the remarkable efficiencies that are possible in reducing the time from incident to disposal, with obvious benefits for victims, witnesses and resources of public services. This is an excellent example of the spirit of challenging the status quo in the belief that improvement is possible that now prevails in the force and among our partners.
6. In a recent survey most people said they did not feel safe in the city centre. Despite increases in city centre policing numbers over recent years, many people still feel the force area lacks enough "bobbies on the beat" and response times have been criticised. Are more officers needed on the streets?
I refer you to my points on the subject of overall funding for L&B Police. I am not sure to which survey you are referring and what the sample size was but you have also reported large scale surveys from the tourism and insurance industries showing that Edinburgh is regarded as having a high quality of life, a good record of safety and security and is a favoured destination for relocation or visiting as a tourist. As with most surveys, the outcome often depends in large measure on the questions asked. I have of course faced this question many times at public meetings and in conversation. Violent crime is at its lowest incidence for over five years, crimes recorded by the police and the British Crime Survey all show that, but people still have a fear of crime that is way out of proportion to the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime. This is partly because we have to improve our provision of information in a timely and precise way that allows people to draw accurate conclusions about the nature of the City centre. But - and this isn’t a pop at the Evening News - we also have to recognise that the way crime is reported has an effect on people’s level of anxiety. And it’s not just reportage or factual journalism that affects people’s sense of the level of criminality but the apparently endless fascination with fictional murder and crime among those who draw up our entertainment TV schedules.
In my new role I will be working to help make comparative data between police forces and, more usefully I think, similar cities, towns or rural communities more transparent. However, it’s always going to be difficult to find good comparators for Edinburgh because of its very nature as a capital city, a hugely successful global tourist attraction and the engine of political and economic development in Scotland. In short, all the arguments that underpin our case for special funding for policing Scotland’s Capital.
Comparisons between police forces are difficult also because of the marked disparity in the size of forces (Strathclyde alone makes up half of the Scottish police service in terms of numbers of officers) and the varied socio-economic nature of the different force areas.
‘Bobbies on the beat’ are an important part of our service but, as with GPs and consultants in the medical world, we have to balance our limited resources in a way that goes as far as possible to meeting the day-to-day needs of many people while having the skills and capability to deal with the exceptional needs of a few. We have to be able to respond to calls about anti-social behaviour while investing in the ability to investigate complicated murders or police major international events - just two of many duties in which L&B excels.
As I recently remarked to the AGM of the Police Federation, we are quick to voice our support for what is often termed the ‘uniformed frontline’ but what of those colleagues working tirelessly to safeguard our national security, or those charged with the onerous duty of carrying firearms in our Armed Response Vehicles, or on special royalty and diplomatic protection duties, or those working in Family Protection Teams in often the most stressful and sensitive circumstances, or those in the Community Support Units whom you saw at the sharp end of the recent drugs raids, or the FCC, or the CID (fewer by ratio than in any other force in Scotland but still achieving fantastic results), or the Drugs and Major Crime Unit responsible for painstaking work against our most cynical and exploitative criminals, or the financial investigators dealing with fraud that imposes costs on every one of us through higher prices, or the dog handlers, mounted branch, crash investigators, or the Sex Offender Management Unit, or the intelligence units, or the Family Liaison Officers who support families in the wake of the most harrowing experiences that most of us can’t even begin to imagine. Also of central importance to our success are our support staff: the analysts, criminal records staff, property staff, IT developers or data communications technicians, accountants and many others who make the work of their police colleagues possible. I could go on.
I have met with all these units - and more - and I have heard from them directly of the pressure they are under to deliver but how glad they are to rise to the challenge and of the results they have achieved. They certainly feel like they are in ‘the frontline’ with their uniformed colleagues on territorial divisions. I have the highest regard for them all, as I have for everyone, whatever their role - police and support staff - who gives so much of themselves to earn the reputation for excellence that Lothian and Borders Police enjoys throughout the UK and beyond.
7. Can much of this antisocial behaviour be put down to alcohol? Are there too many pubs and are the licensing laws too liberal?
Yes, a great deal of anti-social behaviour and crime can be attributed to or at least connected to alcohol, either in its unlawful supply or its excessive consumption. It is, however, too simplistic to assume a linear relationship between the number of licensed premises and the consumption of alcohol. Well-run licensed premises are allies in limiting the abuse of alcohol and promoting sensible behaviour. Much of the alcohol consumed which leads to some form of incident requiring police intervention is consumed in the home or in public places such as playgrounds or parks. This is particularly true among young people who will probably not have bought the alcohol themselves but will have obtained it from their parents (knowingly or unknowingly) or through an older intermediary. Among adults we know that, despite alcohol being cheaper relative to disposable income, there is still a considerable price disincentive for people to do all their drinking in a pub or club and so many have a drink - or several - at home before going out for an evening.
There is much talk of encouraging a Mediterranean culture of drinking in moderation in a relatively liberal supply environment but we have not made much progress in changing our culture or behaviour in that regard and it would seem that the early socialisation involved - drinking small amounts of diluted wine while dining with the extended family on a regular basis - does not fit easily with modern family lifestyles in Scotland. Equally and worryingly, our colleagues in France and Italy are now reporting binge drinking among young people
As problematically, if we look to near neighbours where there is a very strict control of supply, through high prices, restrictive licensing or state monopoly, there are still major problems of public drunkenness and alcohol-related illness.
In short this is a very difficult cultural and public health as well as a public order problem and, as with illegal drugs, there is no simple quick fix that can be applied to the supply or demand side of the equation alone. A properly robust licensing regime will certainly help but it can only ever be effective as part of a wider approach which also requires us as individuals to make sensible decisions about our drinking.
8. Edinburgh has seen a number of high-profile shootings in the last year or two, as well as dozens of serious incidents involving knives. Is enough being done to tackle serious crime and is the city developing a problem with gun and knife crime?
Any level of violence, particularly where weapons are carried and used, represents a problem. Just because we have not seen the levels of firearms crime associated with cities like London, Manchester or Leeds, or even smaller cities like Nottingham or Leicester, there is no room for complacency. We, as a force, have repeatedly warned of the dangers that arise from carrying weapons of any sort - even imitation firearms - and will continue to work hard to help young people in particular see the futility of violence. This is one reason why, for example, our increased effort to work with and in support of teachers in schools is so important.
When I was the divisional commander at Paddington Green, about 13 years ago, we had in hospital custody under armed guard a 16 year old young man who had received three bullet wounds. We knew from colleagues that the youth was himself suspected of committing three murders by firearm overseas. He had no hope or expectation of living beyond 19 or 20 and saw the gun as the only means by which he could assert himself and make progress in life. His case was extreme but not exceptional. We are, happily, a long way from such a dire situation in Scotland but, as I said, we cannot afford to be complacent.
9. A series of drug raids have taken place over the last few days, following on from a number of major raids over the past year or so. But drugs remain endemic in the city despite your efforts. Are police resources being wasted targeting drugs when more money could be invested in prevention and treatment?
The recent operation - the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the history of the force - represented the culmination of many months of careful preparatory work. I can’t discuss details for obvious reasons but the intention of maintaining pressure on the supply of illegal drugs was successful. As you pointed out in your reporting, the illegal drugs market also drives other forms of acquisitive crime and so it is essential that we do all we can to reduce harm in the form of the misery of those exploited by drug dealers, harm to the families who lose dear ones to drugs, and harm to those who become the victims of crime simply so that users can maintain their habit.
We and our colleagues in the Serious Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency have repeatedly said that enforcement can only ever form part of a balanced approach to reducing drug use in our society but it is a part of such an approach. We are immensely grateful to the City of Edinburgh Council for their support in this operation, support intended to ensure that appropriate assistance is available for those drug users and families who need it and to prevent dealers simply regaining the ground we have won. We will continue to work together to meet communities’ expectations in this regard.
10. Youth crime seems to be a growing problem in Edinburgh. Is the raft of new legislation, such as Asbos, and the creation of Youth Action Teams really proving effective?
Lothian and Borders police has a Youth Strategy 2005-2008. Working with others, its aims are:
• To promote the safety of young people in communities
• To tackle youth offending
• To promote and improve the effectiveness of our service
The vast majority of young people do not engage in criminal and antisocial behaviour. However, a small proportion do and are responsible for a disproportionate level of offending. In the past four years over 2000 children have been officially warned about their behaviour in Edinburgh, with parents being encouraged to take responsibility for their children’s actions. Approximately 70% of these children never go on to commit another offence. This figure is an illustration of the success of the partnership strategy.
Dealing successfully with youth crime needs a variety of responses. It is not just about enforcement (ASBOs) or intervention (Youth Action Teams), although both are required on occasion. ASBOs are issued as a last resort in order to protect the quality of life of all members of our communities. It is far more important that we work positively with young people to strengthen our relationship as well as improve their perception of Lothian and Borders Police as a service that exists for their benefit as much as for any other part of the community.
Youth Action Teams (YATs) are continually developing new plans in the light of experience but we are already seeing progress at street level. The East Early Intervention Project in Craigmillar is focusing on low level offending. In the west of the City, the Pentlands YAT are working with the Wester Hailes Youth Agency on a project called Think Twice, focusing on 12 -14 year olds who have come to the attention of the Police. Police Juvenile Liaison Officers are working with all the YATs and a Project called 6VT on Impact, an initiative targeting racially motivated offences committed by children.
A recent progress report on the performance of Youth Action Teams and Safer Communities Units during the period 2003 to 2006 compared the number of youth complaints received during the quarter October to December 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, a traditionally challenging period. Significantly, analysis has shown that in the areas where funded officers focused their activities, complaints about youths had fallen by 29% compared to a citywide fall of 9%. This is a story of success not failure.
The ‘Intensive Support Mechanism’ project is now up and running and is a multi-agency approach aimed at keeping young offenders at risk of going into secure accommodation at home. It offers intensive work with both children and their parents over a long period of time. The project has only started recently and it will take some time before it starts to have any impact but it does offer the possibility of targeting the most persistent of young offenders.
The City of Edinburgh Council Audit of Youth Crime 2005/06 records a 14% rise in young people being reported for offences on the previous year. However, youth offending figures need to be analysed with care before drawing any conclusions. For example, dedicating additional resources (Youth Action Teams) to youth offending has resulted in an increase in the detection of crimes, some of which may not have otherwise been reported - solving a single vandalism often results in an admission of others.
Similarly, a significant number of offences like assault, breach of the peace and vandalism are committed in Young Persons Units. One of the offenders referred to in the Evening News committed nearly all his offences within the Unit where he was residing. He posed no threat to the general public but his actions impacted on staff and residents within the Unit. Recognising this to be unacceptable behaviour, the City of Edinburgh Council are currently examining procedures with a view to better managing these individuals and incidents.
In conclusion, our Youth Action Strategy, in conjunction with a variety of other positive measures, demonstrates our commitment to constantly improving our relationship with young people by working with them to ensure their safety and increase their trust and confidence in the service we deliver. This was exemplified recently when the Drylaw Youth Action Team was nominated and subsequently won the ‘Youth Friendly Service Award’ as part of the ‘Young Edinburgh Award’ scheme. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of my colleagues in working closely with young people across the Lothian and Borders police area.
11. Do you believe that enough is being done to remove young persistent troublemakers from the streets once they have been convicted? Is a lack of secure accommodation to blame?
12. The call centre at Bilston Glen suffered from major problems when it opened and is still struggling to meet standards despite extra resources being granted. Plans to have volunteers answer 999 calls have been attacked as "policing on the cheap" while concerns persist that city police stations will be closed (or opened for reduced periods) in the future. Are the public getting a good service when they try to contact police?
Before the Force Communications Centre opened in February 2004, there was little information available on telephone demand that the force dealt with. Customer expectations then were rather different: people phoning their local police station and receiving an engaged tone generally accepted that the police were busy and called again later. Today expectations are understandably - and rightly - much higher.
When the Force Communications Centre (FCC) went live the force was able to assess properly the true level of demand and make a series of adjustments to meet an increasing number of telephone calls. Initial performance was certainly short of the standard that we were striving for and, since then, telephone demand has risen from just over 80,000 per month to over 100,000 per month. Importantly, the improvements that have been made so far have resulted in continuous improvements in performance against that increasing demand. Performance in both emergency and non-emergency call-answering now meets the national call handling standards but there are still many improvements we want to make.
The FCC's Assistance Desk, which handles most calls after the switchboard, still deals with thousands of calls that would be better handled by other agencies. For example, people telephone the police to ask about shop closing times, train times, weather reports, animal welfare issues, hospital appointments, leaking pipes and so on. While we have always offered a very professional response as the 'social service of last resort' (i.e. ‘when all else fails, you can always get a good answer from the police’) there seems to have been a shift towards the police being the general public service of first resort. This is testament to our approachability and public confidence in our ability to help but it does cause headaches in allocating scarce resources. A major project is underway to seek partnership agreements with the principal organis ations involved, such as the five councils and the two health boards, to help ensure that members of the public have a clearer understanding about who to call in the first instance. This, and other internal issues, will help to streamline the service provided by the Assistance Desk, where most of the FCC's challenges currently lie.
It's important that the police service is always accessible for those who really need the police, and the FCC plays a major role in this regard. Whilst it may seem a good idea to have all police stations open 24/7, the reality is that at certain times of day and night the number of visitors to police stations is so low - in fact non-existent - that it doesn't make sense to keep them open when resources could be used to put officers out on patrol.
There have been some increases in staff numbers at the FCC to meet the continually rising demand, and the force is acutely aware of the future trends in telephone demand that exist country-wide. Following a recent review of the FCC, my successor, David Strang, has agreed to an annual strategic assessment of resource requirements.
Whilst there may be roles for volunteer workers in various areas of the force, including the FCC, these would supplement, rather than help to achieve, the required staffing levels. There are certainly no plans to involve volunteers in answering 999 calls. Having said that, I think the initial hostile response to the suggestion published in the Evening News was rather hasty. We, as a society, are happy to have volunteers perform the full duties of police officers as Special Constables, to fight on our behalf as members of the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve, to carry us from our often dangerous mountains as members of the Mountain Rescue Teams, to rescue us from perilous seas as members of the RNLI, or to administer life-saving first aid as members of the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association. These are just a few examples among many where people give their time, skill and, sadly, sometimes their lives for the benefit of their fellow men and women. The key point is not their volunteer status but the degree to which they are trained and equipped to do the job.
The FCC is currently undergoing some other significant changes that will make further improvements. For example, better switchboard technology will allow multiple calls to be handled simultaneously by each operator, increased use of voicemail across the force will improve access to individual colleagues, and greater integration between emergency and non-emergency call-handling staff will allow more flexibility to meet demand.
The lessons learned since the FCC opened have allowed public contact to improve dramatically in those first three years. Our expertise is growing daily, and communities can expect continued improvement in the months and years to come.
13. Councillor Shami Khan, a member of the police board, claimed that the force was "institutionally racist" although he later withdrew the statement and said the problem was "society-wide". How do you respond to these claims and is enough being done to tackle racism in Edinburgh?
My comments have already been reported at length in the Evening News. I do not wish to comment further other than to say that Lothian and Borders Police is widely recognised by bodies such as the Commission for Racial Equality and Stonewall to be at the forefront of public authorities in meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing society across the force area. I am sure that David Strang will build upon this hard won reputation for commitment to excellence in meeting the needs of all who live in, work in or who visit the force area.
14. You have taken a strong lead on introducing new technology into the force with new uniforms, electronic notebooks, tasers etc. What is the future for policing in Lothian and Borders?
The police service across Scotland needs to be quick to exploit the efficiencies and safety enhancements offered by new technologies. Our people are our most precious resource and, as with the e-notebooks, anything that keeps officers where they and members of the public want them to be - involved in operational policing - must be fully exploited.
15. If you could have your tenure again, what would you do differently?
A former colleague of mine in Sussex Police described me as ‘a learning animal’. I’m not entirely sure he meant it as a compliment but I wouldn’t be much good at learning if I didn’t reflect on events and consider how I might do things differently. In short, there isn’t room here to answer your question exhaustively.
One thing I wish I had done more effectively - and will seek to remedy in my new post - is to make a more profound contribution to the public debate on policing in Scotland. Policing is now a very sophisticated and complicated enterprise, including many disciplines that don’t often receive attention from the media but the success of which is essential to our collective wellbeing. It must be hard, for example, for a colleague working in the very demanding and sometimes distressing environment of a Family Protection Unit, tasked with safeguarding some of our most vulnerable children and adults, to see the preponderance of attention and public debate focused on uniformed patrol. The truth is both are essential and this extends to many other areas of vital but not always readily visible police work.
16. What prompted your decision to leave at this stage when some would argue the reforms you have instigated are not complete?
Unfortunately we are not the arbiters of opportunities in our lives and we must seize them or let them pass, as we choose. I am not leaving because I want to leave L&B but because I want to contribute to the development of the police service across Scotland as a whole in a role that might have not become open again for another four or five years. A new Parliament and a new Executive will bring many challenges but also many possibilities for the police service and I want to do all I can to ensure that we grasp them.
As I said in reply to one of your earlier questions, I have been by no means the only proponent of reform in the force and you do my colleagues a great disservice if you underestimate their strategic vision and appetite for continued innovation and improvement. I am sure that Lothian & Borders Police will continue to innovate, reform and flourish under David Strang’s leadership.
17. What, in your opinion, are the challenges your successor faces?
This is a question better put to David as he will have his own priorities and vision for the future. We have been working together closely as chief constables for the past five years and more and we are both acutely aware that resources will be increasingly constrained and that demand will continue to rise and become more complex. Simultaneously public expectation as to the quality of service delivered by any company or agency, public or private sector, will become more discerning and demanding. These are, in my view, positive drivers for change but they will pose very difficult questions for not only the police service but also Parliament and communities across Scotland as we decide on the kind of police force we want, need and can afford.
18. How is morale within the force and how are your officers coping with the demands of modern policing?
Well, I have met many colleagues across the force area who are all absolutely passionate about the quality of service they provide. As one constable serving in the Borders put it to me, ‘I’m accountable to my inspector, to my divisional commander and, eventually, to you, Sir, but what really sharpens my mind is knowing that I’m accountable to my family, my neighbours and the people I meet in the street when I’m off duty’. They want more resources because, like me, they have always argued that they could do more if they had more. Equally, they recognise the many competing demands placed upon us and the limits of the public purse in meeting them.
Morale is something that’s easy to talk about but hard to define and will vary from person to person, from moment to moment. For an organisation of almost 4,000 people serving communities across the 2,500 square miles of the City of Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders, you have to look at our collective performance for indicators as to our morale and the confidence others have in us so here are a few:
• Some examples of partnership development now taking place are recognised across the UK and beyond, Amethyst being a case in point;
• City of Edinburgh Council funded posts now totalling 78 with additional funding of 500k for YAT teams from April 2007 - because we give a good return on investment. This was simply not even on the horizon before the creation of A Division. And, yes, I remember precisely how enthusiastic the Evening News was to accept the principle of sponsored officers when we first embarked on this ground-breaking initiative. This example is now being followed in all of the five constituent councils in the police area;
• Clear evidence of more efficient and effective use of resources, early evaluation of the e-notebook alone showing up to 35% more time being made available to officers;
• Numerous examples of exceptional front line endeavour (Drylaw and Craigmillar, to name but two) in tackling vandalism and anti-social behviour;
• We now have dedicated Community Beat Officers for council wards in Edinburgh, all of whom are now much less subject to abstraction than was the case under the tri-divisional structure, or even under the early days of A Division;
• Return of policing to local stations with empowered local inspector - a point of customer feedback which we acted on and delivered
• Year on year decrease in recorded crime and year on year increase in detection rate with this year’s projection sitting at 42.5% (Group 1-5); violent crime is at a five year low;
• Complaints against police are down;
• Less time is now spent at Court due to city-wide witness stand-by schemes and the West Lothian Criminal Justice Project is producing remarkable improvements in the time taken to complete a case at court;
• Edinburgh has repeatedly been shown in surveys over the past three years to have the best quality of life gradings of any city in the UK;
• The insurance industry grades Edinburgh as the safest urban risk for household and property insurance in the UK, after Coventry and Guildford (both less than half the size of Edinburgh).
19. What memories of Edinburgh will you take away with you?
Your question seems to suggest you misunderstand the nature of my change in role. I am not leaving Edinburgh but will continue to be based in the heart of the city despite now having a Scotland-wide role. My family and I will continue to live in the Borders.
I have the greatest affection for London as one of the world’s great cities and many happy memories of my years as a police officer there but I have developed an even greater admiration for the environment and people of Edinburgh. It’s a city that defies superlatives and is, in its distinct way, every bit as much a world class city as London.
I am most grateful to the Convener and members of the Police Board for their interest in and support for all that we do as a force, balanced by proper challenge and scrutiny on behalf of the whole force area. I am indebted to our many friends in the five councils, the health boards, the criminal justice system, the Scottish Executive and a wide range of other public, private and voluntary sector partners for all that we have achieved together and for sharing fully our vision for closer and closer working arrangements in the future.
Nothing is ever perfect and we can all find things in our lives or surroundings that we would change for the better but I confess that I do sometimes find myself baffled by the somewhat gloomy contributions of your webchat columns in your online edition. Edinburgh is a fantastic city and the whole area of Lothian and Borders offers a tremendous range of history, scenic beauty, cultural achievement and a quality of life to rival any in the UK. Perhaps it takes an outsider to see things from a different perspective but I would ask any of Edinburgh’s detractors, if not here then in which other city in the UK do you think you would enjoy a safer and richer environment?
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
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