Leaders: Action needed to address weakness of police

Sir Stephen House. 'Picture: Robert Perry
Sir Stephen House. 'Picture: Robert Perry
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In the wake of the pending departure of Police Scotland supremo Sir Stephen House there is much that now needs to be done to tackle public disquiet over the management of our national police force.

First, and of most immediate concern, are reports of “near misses” at the Bilston Glen call centre which failed to respond to the 999 call that led to Lamara Bell and John Yuill lying in their wrecked car off the M9 for three days. 

There are also problems with staff morale, communications with the public and in areas such as the arming of police officers on patrol, stop and search procedures and the targeting of journalists’ communications.

The departure of Sir Stephen House creates an opportunity for a change in culture across the force and for the Scottish Government to put Police Scotland and its accountability in better order.

As if the case of Lamara Bell and John Yuill was not troubling enough, there are reports that suggest that this may have been symptomatic of a wider failure. Insiders have talked of the police force “on its knees” with control rooms struggling to cope with the volume of calls. Whistle blowers have produced a list of other incidents at Bilston Glen that could have led to further tragedies. Ad even without this there was the shock admission by Assistant Chief Constable Val Thomson that staffing levels at Bilston Glen were not up to scratch. 

The HMICS report into police call handling is expected to severely criticise the force when it is handed over to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson. And Labour’s justice spokesman Graeme Pearson has called on plans to close call centres in Aberdeen and Inverness to be put on hold. 

For front line duty to be efficient and effective it is vital that backroom services such as those at call centres are properly manned and resourced. It can be politically tempting to present a façade of fully maintained front line police numbers while ancillary and back office services out of public sight have to bear the brunt of cost reductions to the point where key responsibilities are impaired.

Senior police officers insist that Police Scotland contact and service sectors are constantly reviewed and assessed to ensure incidents are prioritised and that the public receives an effective and efficient service. But this account is now under challenge. The SNP must ensure that the report is thorough and that proper and effective action is taken to address weaknesses.

Meanwhile there are other issues that suggest that the operation of Police Scotland has given rise to questions of regional discretion and appropriateness. Too much has been allowed through under a wide definition of operational procedures rather than being open to exploration and review. Ministers must attend to these wider concerns without delay.

TV fare has us reaching for off switch

It’s enough to make you reach for the remote. Barely have we caught up with the latest box set of House of Cards, Game of Thrones or Band of Brothers than a further must-watch series is in the can. It may be the Golden Age of Television, but have viewers reached peak attention span?

The explosive rise of choice in what we watch – from Amazon, Netflix, Sky and BT – has coincided with growing criticism of conventional terrestrial channels and the BBC in particular.

Endless repeats, cookery programmes sufficient to make us burst, samey house buying and building series, old films shown a dozen times, and perennial gardening programmes exhorting us to get out and dig as we have endured the worst summer in years: have we surely not reached saturation point in TV programme making?

The past year has seen terrestrial programme makers wallowing in the misfortunes of welfare claimants, benefit cheats and petty criminals. It’s enough to drive us – well, to those Netflix and Amazon box sets: anything for a change.

Now come trailers for the new season – period dramas, violent crime and impenetrable detective fare.

And as if all this is not enough, prepare for a new invasion of Scandi-noir, with grisly murders, long lingering shots of bleak Nordic landscapes and sub-titles we have to read instantly before they disappear.

More often the huddle round the office water cooler the next day is to find anyone who understood it. Surely we need a night of blank screens or a restful few hours so we can catch up. Time to bring back the potter’s wheel for a whole evening?