National police force face battle to win over public

Picture: Julie Bull
Picture: Julie Bull
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THE challenge facing Scotland’s new national police force in winning public confidence has been highlighted by a study.

A survey, which was taken before Police Scotland came into being, shows just 10 per cent of Scots thought that moving to a single force would have a positive impact on the policing of their local communities. A quarter said the move would make them “a little less” confident, and 17 per cent said “much less”.

Almost half thought moving to a national force, from eight regions and the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency, would make “no difference” to community policing.

The study, which was carried out by the Scottish Centre for Social Research and the Scottish Institute for Policing, also found that police have a worse relationship with people in deprived areas.

More than a quarter of those in the worst-off parts of the country felt police did not have a good understanding of the problems they face, compared with just 16 per cent in the most affluent.

Confidence was also higher among women, with 21 per cent saying they were “very confident” police would take their concerns seriously, compared with just 16 per cent of men.

That confidence decreased with age, with 16 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds not at all confident, compared with 3 per cent of those aged 65 and over.

More than 60 per cent of those surveyed said police did a “fairly good” job, with 8 per cent saying it was “very good”.

Crime is now at a 39-year low, with 1,000 extra officers on the street, and fear of crime starting to fall in recent years. Chief Constable Stephen House has structured the national force to try to ensure the service can react to the needs of all 353 council wards in Scotland.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “The public will see very little difference in policing, as the same local officers with expertise in their area will work every day to keep people safe.

“Reform of policing in Scotland has also given communities across Scotland equal access to specialist resources such as the specialist crime division and operational support division. Police Scotland seeks to serve all our communities and demographics and we engage closely with young people regardless of where they live in Scotland.

“The public must continue to have confidence in policing and we see this borne out in crime being at a 39-year low.”

One of the strongest criticisms of the move to a single force, which took place on 1 April, was that the service would be less responsive to ­local communities.

The government and police have tried to reassure people that local issues will be taken into account.

But the researchers concluded there is little understanding about how police are organised and said Police Scotland “should do more to tap public views”.

One of the most vocal critics of police reform was Martin Greig, who was convener of Grampian Joint Police Board. He feared Central Belt policies would be thrust upon communities elsewhere in Scotland.

“My views have not changed and in many ways have 
been confirmed,” he said. “As a councillor I no longer have a role to play in local governance.

“Councils have a role in terms of being consulted about police priorities, but I am very worried that there have only been two council committee meetings where police and fire business have come up. The councillors did not ask questions and the amount of time allocated to police was about five minutes, and fire two minutes.

“So there has been a drastic reduction in council involvement in policing.”

However, the Scottish Government insists it has taken steps to make policing more accountable to local people.

A spokeswoman said: “Local policing shaped and delivered in communities remains at the heart of the new service, with a designated local commander for each area and a dedicated policing plan for every single council ward in Scotland.

“Crime is now at a 39-year low, backed by record numbers of police in our communities. Confidence in police is high and increasing.”