Phil Gormley: Be vigilant for terrorists in festive season

Security guards at this years German Market in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Security guards at this years German Market in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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This month marked the first anniversary of the Paris terror attack in which 130 people were murdered including 89 at the Bataclan theatre. A month that also saw the French Police continuing to make arrests as they discover new plans and plots to commit murder and mayhem. Closer to home Thomas Mair has been jailed for life for the murder of MP Jo Cox; a murder inspired in the words of the judge by an admiration “for Nazis and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds”.

The enduring nature of the threat from terrorism and violent extremism that we confront right across Europe demonstrates the need for us all to remain vigilant and presents a constant challenge to the Police Service as we relentlessly review our tactics, capabilities and capacity to keep people safe. This vigilance will be particularly important as we enter the festive season with our towns and cities crowded with people looking to celebrate life not death. We know the nature of the threat will continue to evolve and mutate. We have seen highly organised, planned attacks as well as individuals acting on their own but inspired by terrorist ideology. We have seen people radicalised in the private space of their homes and in the online world, without stepping through their front door.

Tomorrow sees the start of Counter Terrorism Awareness Week. Throughout the UK policing will be working with the public and partners to ensure that we all remember the importance of remaining alert but not alarmed. On Friday, in support of the nationwide campaign, officers across Scotland undertook a 24-hour period of high-profile activity to provide information and raise awareness regarding threat, risk and vulnerability – and what we can collectively do to make our communities safer. Five hundred additional officers deployed from 24 briefing centres, right across Scotland to reinforce and refresh these messages at local, regional and national level.

Over the coming weeks Police Scotland will continue our work with the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and the Security Industry Authority to equip and enable the private security industry to respond to the developing nature of the threat. This approach will ensure we can work ever more effectively together. But this isn’t a one-off; it’s the continuation of a relationship with this particular sector which will deliver increased collaboration with a single aim – to keep people safe. It is vital that we have as many eyes and ears on the ground as possible. Vigilant business and security staff who can spot suspicious activity are an important part of the overall safety and security posture.

The creation of Police Scotland as a single national force means that we have the potential to keep people safe from the modern threats presented by crime and terrorism. As Chief Constable of Norfolk and then Deputy Director General of the National Crime Agency I looked north with envy at the creation of the integrated Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh and the single Service. Police Forces designed and organised to meet the threats of the last century simply do not have the capacity and capabilities to cope with the challenges of an interconnected and networked world where geography is an irrelevance. The Police Service of Scotland has the potential to deliver world class service and protection in the modern world and that is what attracted me to the job.

The Scottish Crime Campus doesn’t just deliver a new building from which a number of agencies can work. It delivers a different mindset, one that we continue to see on a daily basis as we respond to emerging issues or investigations; it’s a mindset in which the sharing of intelligence and information amongst partners is regarded as business as usual and where silo working is a hindrance rather than an expression of operational primacy. Our ways of thinking have changed.

The creation of Police Scotland allows our specialist resources to be fully brought to bear on the emerging threats we have seen over recent years. The bringing together of organised crime capability with officers who specialise in counter terror work; an intelligence hub which acts as the lifeblood of many investigations; and a real focus on how specialists support policing in local communities every day. This approach is world leading.

The Police Service of Scotland has the opportunity to connect and integrate activity seamlessly from the very local through to the national and international. There is still much work to be done to maximise the potential we have to deliver local policing services that are relevant and valued, recognising the diversity of community life across Scotland. There will be difficult choices as we determine the sort of investment that must be made to deliver the best achievable outcomes. We will need to think through the sort of workforce we need for the future and the balance of spend between people and the enabling technology and infrastructure.

To be effective a modern police service needs to be able to protect people from threat, harm and risk in public, private and virtual space. We need to focus our energy and resource on achieving that protective effect. This needs a different balance of skills and capabilities than when I joined 31 years ago when we principally policed public spaces and the world was a simpler place.

As we look to the future of policing in Scotland, and begin the work of transformation having achieved transition to a single service, we will create a model which is capable of responding to local need whilst delivering world class protection from the threats presented by organised crime and terrorism in the digital age.

Work is well under way developing our 10-year policing strategy which puts protecting people and vulnerability at the centre of what we do in a way that is legitimate, and valued by all our communities. As we continue the transformational journey of policing in Scotland one thing that won’t change is our core philosophy of policing by consent. Ultimately, it’s communities working together with the police service which defeats terrorism and crime.