Chris Marshall: Police Scotland needs stability

Sir Stephen House, Police Scotland's outgoing chief constable. Picture: PA
Sir Stephen House, Police Scotland's outgoing chief constable. Picture: PA
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POLICE Scotland now needs a period of stability to focus on the basics, writes Chris Marshall

IT IS yet to be announced who will succeed Sir Stephen House as chief constable of Police Scotland, but his opposite number at the Scottish Police Authority is already in post.

Andrew Flanagan, a chartered accountant by profession, last week replaced Vic Emery as chairman of the often-criticised police watchdog, a part-time role which could see him earn around £60,000 a year.

Mr Flanagan’s first task is to carry out a review of police governance, which the Scottish Government has said will seek to improve accountability based on “lessons learned” to date.

The new chief constable will also undertake a series of public scrutiny sessions to improve accountability across the country.

Sadly, any scrutiny of the police provided thus far has come from the media and political opponents of the SNP, not the SPA. And both Police Scotland and the Scottish Government have been extremely slow to learn lessons.

Lessons were learned last week on two major issues, however, with the publication of reports on stop and search and on call handling.

Despite ignoring warnings for months that staff at the Bilston Glen control room were overstretched, it took the tragic deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill – after a crash on the M9 that was not investigated despite being reported by a passer-by – for the Scottish Government to set up a review.

Published on Thursday by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, that review recommended delaying further control room closures. The report said some staff are under “unacceptably high” levels of pressure.

The Scottish Government promised to accept the recommendation along with that of a separate advisory group review which called for an end to so-called “consensual” stop and search. The practice, which has been the subject of considerable controversy over the past year, allows police to search for alcohol or weapons on a non-statutory basis.

The advisory group said non-statutory stop and search was of “questionable lawfulness and legitimacy”. The tactic will now be scrapped.

The fact there had been growing disquiet on both stop and search and police control rooms for some time before things reached crisis point only underlines how ineffective the SPA has been at raising these issues with the leadership of Police Scotland.

Official statistics released yesterday show recorded crime in Scotland is at a 41-year low. Broadly speaking, Police Scotland continues to be an effective crime-fighting force.

But what it needs now is a period of stability where it can focus on the basics without constantly having to defend itself in the face of criticism.