Wayne Mawson: Up front about big changes in police

Craigmillar Police Station in Edinburgh is one of those facing closure. Picture: Greg Macvean

Craigmillar Police Station in Edinburgh is one of those facing closure. Picture: Greg Macvean

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Policing must move with the times and proposals to close stations will result in a better service, writes Wayne Mawson

A modern police service, one which meets the demands of the modern world we now all live in, where there have never been so many choices in how members of the public access the police and engage with us.

That’s the reality of where we are as we consult with our staff and engage the wider community around the provision of front counter services at more than 200 police stations in our 14 divisions across the country.

The reality is that policing has never been so accessible to all in Scotland when we are needed. We are, first and foremost, of course, an emergency service. And for emergency contact, the 999 telephone number remains in place.

When it comes to non-emergency contact, from the ability to speak to a member of staff or officer in a police office or local community, telephone contact to local police via the single non-emergency phone number 101 from wherever you call, or digitally through one of our online channels – policing has adapted to take account of wider social changes and public demand.

Looking at the provision of front-counter services and examining the evidence we have gathered to date, the reality is that the public are visiting police offices less. It’s not how the public in 2013 are predominantly choosing to contact us.

Staff at one large national media outlet last week, when considering the story about the proposals, conducted a quick straw poll in the office asking when was the last time anyone had actually called in person at a police office front counter.

Nobody could provide an affirmative response, which helps illustrate the issue.

Of course, it doesn’t mean the demand for that kind of contact has vanished completely – our proposal isn’t about withdrawing all front-counter services – but in a minority of offices, the level of public demand is so low that we are proposing to withdraw that provision.

Our proposals will see consistent and clearly communicated opening hours across the country at police office front counters – some operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, other operating in what can be described as normal office hours.

Where no front-counter provision is planned, in a number of smaller, less well-used offices, alternatives are being considered. These include telephone contact points or shared locations with other public services.

The previous eight forces looked at this issue and gathered a range of information about public access and activity. We have taken a fresh look at that.

Moving from eight territorial forces to a single service in April this year saw the advent of 101 for non-emergency telephone, the Specialist Crime Division and the introduction of a national trunk roads patrol group.

It also realised the opportunity to deliver a much more consistent service to the communities from Shetland to Stranraer.

We began consulting with our staff over the proposed changes to arrangements around the provision of front counter services last week. We value all our staff.

Working in a number of roles across Scotland, carrying out specific and often specialist functions, they help us deliver a better service and allow us to put police officers where they matter most – in a range of frontline roles where their sworn powers are required.

That staff consultation, which is part of our legal obligation when proposing organisational change like this, followed a comprehensive review of front-counter services. What became apparent during the review was that the previous eight police forces – whilst all providing front-counter services – did so in different ways.

As a single organisation we want to deliver that service consistently and effectively, at the same time as reflecting the communities we serve in and the different levels of demand evident throughout the country.

I want to be absolutely and categorically clear. This proposal is not about closing police offices.

Police offices across the country remain open for business as places where officers muster and deploy from, where those arrested can be brought into our custody and where the myriad of policing activities take place from.

The proposal on the table at present will see 75 per cent of all front counters remain open to members of the public. Our evidence – gathered by legacy police forces and reassessed by Police Scotland – showed that demand simply didn’t justify maintaining provision in certain locations.

The proposed changes in opening hours and front counter provision will see a greater consistency of public counter provision across the 14 local divisions – currently there is no consistency on opening hours, functions undertaken by staff and the service provided.

Opening hours of public counters, where there are members of staff located across the country will be consolidated across five categories.

These range from open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to a opening hours during the day and into the evening, with some moving to a shared service facility or no full-time provision.

The offices which we have assessed as where no front counter provision will exist moving forward has been based on demand from the public, proximity and accessibility to nearby larger, busier offices and the provision of alternatives.

In light of the challenging financial climate we all face, the police service is no different and it’s been well-rehearsed in the media and elsewhere about the scale of the savings we need to make.

Police Scotland is leaving no stone unturned as we look at how we achieve these savings.

More effective ways of working can help us deliver those savings at the same time as maximise the effectiveness of the service.

It’s not the first time policing structures in Scotland have changed. Policing has always adapted to social changes and the way the world has developed around us, including the massive growth of new technologies.

However, public service remains at the forefront of our ethos.

• Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson is responsible for local policing in the west of Scotland.

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