Police chiefs call for freedom from Executive
SENIOR police chiefs have warned Scottish Executive ministers not to interfere with the way they carry out their duties.
In a written submission to the Scottish Parliament, the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS) claimed proposed legislation on anti-social behaviour could impinge on the operational accountability of chief constables.
The warning to the Justice 2 Committee came from David Strang, the chairman of the ACPOS general policy committee, who will give evidence to the committee tomorrow.
In his letter, Mr Strang warns the independence of chief constables could be threatened by the implementation of additional measures to allow police to disperse groups of youths in the Executive’s planned Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.
Mr Strang said he had serious reservations about section 21 of the bill, which "confers a power on Scottish ministers to give directions to police officers in the exercise of powers".
While accepting ministers may wish to issue guidance, Mr Strang states: "Chief constables are operationally accountable for the exercise of powers by police officers. This should not be a matter for ministers."
He went on to highlight concerns about the proposed powers, claiming existing laws were already enough to deal with the dispersal of groups.
"ACPOS considers that current police powers are adequate to deal with offences of causing alarm or distress and that the proposals would not be practical in addressing anti-social behaviour," he added.
Opposition parties last night accused the Executive of riding roughshod over existing responsibilities. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s justice spokeswoman, said: "Most people would be very disturbed at any suggestion that politicians would start to interfere with operational matters of the police.
"The police are best placed to make operational decisions and any outside political interference would be something to be very concerned about.
"The Executive’s temptation is to talk tough in the whole area of youth justice and it has led to them overstepping the mark and interfering with professionals in other areas."
Annabel Goldie, the Conservative justice spokeswoman, said increased resources would help combat crime rather than new legislation.
"Our concern has always been that there is not the need for new laws, just for increased resources to implement existing laws," she said.
"New laws do not necessarily create a better situation. and what we need is more police officers and more investment in the Crown Office.
"The Executive needs to loosen its control and allow the police to do their jobs," she added.
However, the Executive last night defended its strategy and said ACPOS would be fully consulted about the implementation of legislation.
An Executive spokeswoman said: "We are committed to drawing up the detailed arrangements for the way the powers would be used in close collaboration with ACPOS and others to find the best way of doing this."
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