POLICE claims that more officers are needed in control rooms are a “smokescreen” to make sure the force hits a Scottish Government target, a trade union has said.
Unison, the public sector union, has hit out at the proposals, calling them a waste of money and unnecessary.
At present, just 11 per cent of workers in some control rooms are uniformed officers. However, Police Scotland have said they want to raise this to 45 per cent.
The Scottish Police Authority approved the force’s plans to close six of the 11 centres on Thursday, with the loss of up to 212 jobs. The move is set to save £74 million by 2026.
The Scottish Government has set a target of 17,234 police officers – 1,000 more than when the SNP first came to power in 2007 – and as a result Police Scotland must look at reducing its civilian workforce instead.
There are currently 595 police staff working in control rooms around the country. Reducing that figure by 212 will achieve the ratio with the existing 302 police officers, which the force sees as ideal.
However, Unison says civilians are just as capable of taking 999 and 101 calls, directing responses to crimes and emergencies and receiving intelligence as officers, and are cheaper – typically earning £25,000 a year compared to £35,000 picked up by their uniformed colleagues.
Dave Watson, Unison’s Scottish organiser of the public sector, said: “Other control rooms – ambulance, fire – they’re totally civilianised.
“Control rooms in other police forces [in England and Wales] are entirely civilianised. We were virtually there with Dumfries and Galloway.
“Experienced controllers know exactly what to do. The requirement to have police officers is, at best, minimal.
“There are far too many police officers in control rooms already.”
Asked if it was related to the Scottish Government’s target for 1,000 extra officers on the beat, Mr Watson said: “Of course it is a smokescreen for that. You can’t get rid of police officers so you’ve got to get rid of civilians.”
Police have stressed that no officers will be moved off the beat and into control rooms to hit the new targets.
Chief Superintendent Val Thomson said: “The proposals for the future of contact, command and control will improve service to communities and strengthen local policing and enable Police Scotland to provide a quicker and more appropriate response.”
The Scottish Government denied its police officer target was leading to unnecessary backfilling – where uniformed officers carry out civilian work.
A spokeswoman said: “The makeup of police services is best decided by police who know the needs and requirements to ensure the best possible service for communities.
“Some jobs in control rooms can only be done by warranted police officers. Officers in control rooms also provide skills, advice and expertise to assist those on the ground keeping communities safe.”