SCOTLAND’S single police force is not yet the “finished article” and still has challenges ahead, it has been claimed.
Commenting on the one-year anniversary of Police Scotland’s creation, Vic Emery, of the Scottish Police Authority, said the reforms which created the force were not “at the end of the road”.
Mr Emery, who chairs the body set up to scrutinise the new force, said there were “further opportunities for collaboration and disrespecting organisational boundaries than have been embraced so far”.
His comments came as critics said Police Scotland’s first year had been marred by staff cuts, a tailing-off of officer numbers, police station and control room closures and “fiddled” crime figures.
The reorganisation of Scotland’s eight regional police forces under a single banner is designed to save £1.1 billion by 2026.
Mr Emery said: “The question we should be asking after one year of the new policing arrangements is how far have we progressed on the journey of reform, not simply whether reform has been a success or not.
“Most people recognise policing has faced tough challenges in the last year. If you have ever moved house while juggling the family and looking after the day job, you know that a major transition will have moments that are clunky and stressful.
“But once you are in your new surroundings, you know you don’t want to go back and you know that you want to build for the future. That’s where we are right now. We are in the new house, but it is not yet the finished article.”
Mr Emery said the police were under more scrutiny than ever before in Scotland, and he said not all of the force’s proposed reforms had been “universally or immediately popular”.
“Police reform is not simply a merger and the strategies we have recently approved are not the end of the road in terms of reform,” he said.
“We have laid down a challenge to the professionals and partners we work with to deliver tangible progress on this issue in the coming year.”
Last week, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House admitted some stop and search figures were being “made up” by officers putting “ghost” entries into the system.
Labour’s justice spokesman, Graeme Pearson, said: “Police staff have been axed in their thousands, police officer numbers have begun to drop, police stations and control rooms across Scotland have closed.
“More and more officers are sitting behind desks doing paperwork – they should be out on the street catching criminals. Now we find out that police officers, under pressure from their bosses, are fiddling figures.
“Local communities are losing their voice about how they are policed. That isn’t what we voted for in parliament.”
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: “The creation of Police Scotland is the biggest public sector organisational change in a generation, received cross-party support in parliament and was welcomed by police organisations.
“Supported and challenged by the Scottish Police Authority, it is exceeding targets for making savings, brought on by tough Westminster cuts, while maintaining the extra 1,000 police in communities, high clear-up rates, strong public satisfaction and a near 40-year low in crime.”
Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson added: “The change to a single policing service last year has been the biggest public sector reform since devolution and, building on the good work of the previous police forces, it has offered us a real opportunity to improve the service.
“It has enabled us to develop a consistency of policing across the country, so that victims of crime, no matter where they live, can expect the same response and level of support.
“It has allowed each of our 14 policing divisions to readily access specialist expertise and support no matter where and when the demand.
“It has also ensured that the views of local communities are reflected in the local policing plans we develop, ensuring that all our activities are focused on what the public tell us matters to them.”
Graeme Pearson: It’s not about operational issues, it’s all about delivery
On the shop floor, police officers, sergeants and support staff have helped maintain stability in delivering a service. That’s an achievement in itself with all the changes going on behind the scenes.
Where the concerns have been are over accountability and genuine consultation with local communities. In my view, there’s been a cavalier approach to that.
Very often the consultations are extremely rushed and the outcomes decided before the responses have even been received.
Partly that has been driven by the Scottish Government looking to make savings, but I think it’s also due to a culture that exists within the police. They have had nearly five years to plan for this and a great deal more thought should have been put in to how it would operate.
The government has a role to play. Kenny MacAskill is quick to take credit for things going well, but when there are problems he says he doesn’t want to comment on “operational issues”.
Well, we don’t want him to comment on operational issues, what we want him to do is deliver. Another issue is that in the past year there have been a number of times when the way statistics have been dealt with by Police Scotland have undermined confidence and accountability.
They need to clean up their act in that regard on stop and search, but even on the statistical reporting of crime, there are indications this is being driven by performance management.
As always, there’s a lot still to do. The key issue is that the Scottish Government was not committed to the single force when it was elected the last time around, so they have not really put their minds to this.
There was also a great deal of resistance in the police itself.
This is a watershed moment. There is a crisis of confidence right across the UK between the police service and the public they serve.
We need to get this right over the next few years if we are to continue enjoying the relationship that has existed in the past. We need to hold on to the principle that police officers are civilians in uniform who carry out a vital role on our behalf.
• Graeme Pearson MSP is Labour justice spokesman and former director-general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.