Police seek recruits from eastern Europe
Key quote "Anything we can do to retain existing police officers or recruit new officers is a good thing. Police forces are having to recruit more and more people, and we will be losing a lot of experienced officers, so now is the right time to be looking at this" - Peter Thickett, Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland personnel and training secretary
Story in full POLICE officers from Poland, Latvia and other eastern European countries could soon be patrolling Scotland's streets under radical recruitment plans being drawn up by chief constables.
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) is to investigate ways of recruiting officers directly from police forces in recent EU accession states.
Chief constables hope the strategy will help to deal with a recruitment shortfall over the next few years, as the number of retiring officers soars to record levels.
In Lothian and Borders, for example, the force will have to recruit about 300 officers in 2009 - twice the current annual figure - as officers who signed up during a massive recruitment drive in the late 1970s leave the service.
The force will soon launch its first television advertising campaign, costing 50,000, to attract recruits. Human resource managers say hiring Poles and other eastern Europeans will help to meet the recruitment challenges the service faces, and ensure the police are able to serve effectively eastern European immigrants who are settling in Scotland in their thousands.
Traditionally, only citizens of the UK and Ireland have been allowed to join Scotland's police service - the main obstacle to recruiting foreign nationals being the lack of any system for carrying out cross-border criminal records checks. Police currently do not have routine access to such records and ACPOS is to seek the help of the Scottish Executive in setting up protocols with other EU states so they can share such information.
At present, immigrants can be hired only if they have lived trouble-free in the UK for three years.
Peter Thickett, who is secretary of the ACPOS personnel and training business area and director of human resources at Lothian and Borders Police, said the current rules governing recruitment of non-UK citizens were "restrictive".
He added: "It would be extremely helpful if we were allowed to access criminal records in foreign countries so we could do our own checks. That will be something that, through ACPOS, we will be looking at.
"We will be looking to recruit existing trained police officers from these countries.
"At the moment there are no protocols in place to make that easy. People might think there must be a way to do it through, for example, Interpol, but there isn't.
"By the end of the year it is our intention to have made contact with Poland and possibly other countries, such as Latvia, with a view to recruiting directly."
He said the service was striving to better reflect the communities it serves.
"We want to make sure we recruit the right balance of people to reflect the changing population that we serve. That is the main driver behind this," he said.
"Anything we can do to retain existing police officers or recruit new officers is a good thing. Police forces are having to recruit more and more people, and we will be losing a lot of experienced officers, so now is the right time to be looking at this.
"But we have to be careful who we recruit as some police forces have bad reputations in the eyes of the public.
"What we want to do, through the Scottish Executive, is find a way for us to access their criminal records so that we can recruit directly from those countries, or from immigrants recently arrived in the UK, rather than have to wait three years."
He stressed that recruits from foreign police services would be fully versed in Scots law before they were allowed into the home force.
The police would just be the latest organisation to turn to Eastern Europe to boost their workforce. Forty Polish dentists have also been recruited to help solve the NHS dental crisis.
Chris Methven, the secretary of Grampian branch of the Scottish Police Federation said: "We don't have people rushing to join the service anymore. We're also not getting the same standard. We have got to find ways of maintaining the same high quality and this could be one of them," he said.
An Executive spokeswoman said: "We are committed to supporting the police in their efforts to ensure that Scottish forces are able to secure the best recruits.
"We would look with interest at any proposals that might help the police to achieve that."
Patrolling two very different beats
• Polish police carry a 9mm pistol as a standard-issue firearm. Scottish police are not routinely armed.
• Polish police are known for soliciting bribes while on traffic duty. Scottish police are generally held to be free of corruption.
• Polish police have smashed several crime rings that flourished in the country following the end of communism. Police in Scotland earned plaudits and criticism for their handling of the G8 summit.
• The starting monthly salary for a Polish officer is 373. The starting monthly salary for a Scottish constable is 1,666.
• The Polish police service is 103,000-strong for a population of 39 million. Scotland has 15,000 police officers for its five million citizens.
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