Best way to fight crime is at its roots

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DAVID STRANG is certain that his dedication to tackling crime at the grassroots won him the top job at Lothian and Borders Police.

As the 48-year-old prepares to take up the post of chief constable in March, he has no doubts about the unique challenges he faces.

But he derives a quiet confidence from his devotion to community policing and its focus on the root causes of offending, such as drug and alcohol misuse.

He believes the problems of city centre violence, knife and gun crime, and housebreakings are best tackled at the source.

However, despite praising the overall "safety" of the city as a place to live, he says he remains "strongly committed" to combating Edinburgh's hardened criminals. The Marmion pub shootings in April and the stabbing to death of a 17-year-old boy last Friday are just two examples of a worrying trend.

While describing budgets as "tight" and acknowledging the finite number of bobbies on the beat, Mr Strang has already identified his key goals.

He said: "There is a danger in this job that if you make everything a priority then you make nothing a priority.

"My focus on community policing will look at what causes these problems in the first place."

Mr Strang served as assistant chief constable with the force until his departure in 2001, citing the policing of the Capital's Millennium celebrations as a particular highlight.

Yesterday, he spent an afternoon of quiet reflection in Lockerbie to mark the 18th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 which claimed 281 lives.

He paid his respects to the still-grieving families who visited the town cemetery as he completed one of his last duties as chief constable for Dumfries and Galloway, where the disaster took place.

Mr Strang knows he will assume an even higher profile as head of Scotland's second biggest force, with responsibility for the capital city and all its trappings.

But the former Loretto schoolboy believes he has been handed his "ideal job" following Wednesday's appointment.

He said: "I believe I was given the role because I'm strongly committed to community policing as a way to solve local problems. I want to build up partnerships with the council and other agencies. I want to engage with the public.

"But that approach goes hand in hand with tackling organised crime, violent offenders or terrorism. I'm dedicated to facing the serious issues."

Mr Strang was tasked with ensuring the massive crowds enjoyed trouble-free celebrations at New Year and he believes education offers the best chance to stamp out city centre violence.

He added: "I'm chair of the Alcohol and Drug Action Team in Dumfries and Galloway and that has given me an understanding of the issues. The police cannot tackle this alone and it can't just be our job to lock people up. We need to go the root of the problems. That may come through education, raising awareness and working with health services.

"I've been impressed with the work of the youth action teams, which are a good example of looking at where things come from in the first place."

The growing trend for teenagers carrying knifes was brutally highlighted with the stabbing of Liam Melvin in Southhouse last week. Mr Strang said: "I am committed to tackling serious crime. There was The Marmion pub shootings, of course, a case which was solved with good police work. Overall, Edinburgh is a very safe place to live. When there is a stabbing or a shooting it makes front-page news because it's so significant and unusual here.

"But we need to work to reduce the carrying of knives among young people. Once again, it's about preventing problems before they begin.

"Housebreakings, drug dealing and antisocial behaviour are all important issues. My focus on community policing will look at their core. Housebreakings, for example, are often connected to drugs."

Mr Strang was on duty at the heart of the Brixton riots in 1981 only a year after joining the Metropolitan Police in London, and he was an inspector during the poll tax riots of 1990.

His five-year stint at the head of Dumfries and Galloway Police has left him in no doubt about the pressures he will face in the coming years. And the father-of-three recognises that he will not be able to call upon a greater supply of resources than his predecessor Paddy Tomkins.

"We know that our Scottish Executive budgets for the next three years are going to be tight," said Mr Strang.

"Any chief constable wants more money to spend, but we will have to make the most of the funding we receive. That will be my real responsibility.

"It's about getting the best from the resources you have. We want to have a visible police presence in the right places, but we need to staff the specialist teams in fraud, counter-terrorism, monitoring sex offenders and so many others. That balance has to be struck.

"The job is obviously very high-profile with Edinburgh as the nation's capital. What happens here is very much the focus of press and television coverage and the city itself is on the world stage."

Along with his dedication to the tenets of community policing, Mr Strang believes his familiarity with the Lothian and Borders force also proved key in the police board's decision to select him above a host of highly-qualified candidates.

As director of operations for Edinburgh, his remit encompassed all the city's policing, including uniform, CID and traffic.

Mr Strang will now make the permanent move back east to his family's Edinburgh home shared with psychologist wife Allison and their three teenage children.

He said: "As assistant chief, I built up good relationships with the local authority and other bodies and I'm very familiar with the geography of the region. I see my role as providing leadership for the service and building up communication with our partners.

"The city faces a number of challenges in 2007 with the parliamentary and local authority elections. The boundary changes with council wards will also entail a great deal of work."

He added: "Lothian and Borders Police has always enjoyed a reputation for change, and I'm delighted to be following Paddy Tomkins, who has led in so many innovative ways.

"I found the force to be filled with good people committed to serving the public. I'm looking forward to coming back and leading from the top."



"There are clear links between prostitution and drug misuse. The whole community has to be involved in this issue."


"We know that our Scottish Executive budgets for the next three years are going to be tight."


"We want to have a visible police presence in the right places, but we need to staff the specialist teams in fraud, counter-terrorism, monitoring sex offenders and so many others."


"We have to get to the root of the problems in the first place. That may come through education, raising awareness and working with health services."


"Overall, Edinburgh is a very safe place to live. But we need to work to reduce the carrying of knives among young people."


"I want the whole community to have confidence in reporting matters to the police."


Born: Glasgow

Age: 48

Education: Glasgow Academy and Loretto School, Musselburgh. BSc degree in Engineering Science from the University of Durham. MSc in Organisational Behaviour from Birkbeck College, University of London.

Career: Joined the Metropolitan Police in 1980. Worked as uniform officer before being promoted to CID, mostly stationed in north and central London. Reached the rank of Divisional Commander - the equivalent of Chief Superintendent - in Wembley division, a patch that included the national football stadium. In July 1998, began a three-year stint as Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police. Appointed as Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary in August 2001.

Other duties: Former chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland General Policing Standing Committee and ACPOS representative on the National Criminal Justice Board. Made president of ACPOS in July 2004. Member of the McInnes Committee reviewing summary justice in Scotland. Chairman of Alcohol and Drug Action Team and Youth Justice Strategy Group, Dumfries and Galloway.

Honours: Awarded Queen's Police Medal in 2002.