Chief Constable ‘shocked’ by the lack of focus on Scottish frontline policing

Jo Farrell says organisation ‘held under the water on a daily basis’ by scale of demand it faces

Scotland’s top police officer said she has been “shocked” by the lack of focus on frontline policing in Scotland since taking up her post seven months ago.

Addressing the centenary conference of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) in the Borders, Police Scotland Chief Constable Jo Farrell said the organisation was being “held under the water on a daily basis” by the scale of demand it faces.

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She pointed to officers being taken off the front line to do work that should be done by police staff, and the demands of mental health incidents and court citations, which she said had a “significant impact” on policing by taking officers out of their communities and seeing rest days cancelled.

Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA WirePolice Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell on patrol in Glasgow city centre. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

She said an officer attends a mental health-related incident every three or four minutes on average, which, she said, equates to between five and seven hundred full-time officers’ worth of time.

She said “We must focus intently on our core duties and what matters to the people we serve. We must evolve our service so that we can live within our means and are fit for the challenges coming down the line.

“Some of our evolution will be in our structures and working practices, but everything we do must be about prioritising the front line and tackling harm and high harm and the issues that most affect the communities we serve.”

She added, since starting in post seven months ago, she had been “quite surprised and at times shocked at the lack of focus on frontline policing in this organisation”.

Her comments came after a speech from ASPS president, Chief Superintendent Rob Hay, in which he called on police to steer clear of “toxic” culture wars.

Mr Hay told the conference: “The divisive, political and toxic nature of some of the debate raging in wider society is not a place policing should ever inhabit.

“The flood of spurious complaints received upon the enactment of the new hate crime legislation is the latest example of the mischief-making we have seen, undertaken with spiteful glee and diverting police resources from those in actual need.

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“So, let us be pacifists in the culture war as we have no interest in arresting JK Rowling, no matter how much she tweets about it, nor are we interested in investigating Humza Yousaf for describing some white people as being white.”

He said that while officers have an important role in policing genuine hate crime, they must not be drawn into the “petty point scoring” filling much of the debate.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into force on April 1, creating a new stirring-up offence for some protected characteristics.

These characteristics include age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

More than 7,000 complaints were made online in the first week the Act came into effect and, earlier this month, it emerged the total number of complaints was close to reaching 10,000.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has insisted that the introduction of the Act “has had minimal impact on front line policing”.

In papers to be discussed at the SPA’s board meeting on Wednesday, the authority claims that “officers were well supported through a comprehensive training programme with advisors on hand to assist”.

Police have been criticised for the longstanding policy of recording of non-crime hate incidents after Tory MSP Murdo Fraser was logged for an incident after he tweeted criticism of the Scottish Government’s transgender policy.

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Mr Fraser was told that every complaint would be logged as a non-crime hate incident, even when no criminality has taken place. But complaints made against former first minister Humza Yousaf and author JK Rowling were not logged as much.

Now, updated police guidance states that “ not all incidents perceived by the reporter as being motivated by hostility or prejudice will meet the threshold for recording a non-crime hate incident”.

It adds that “when an incident is perceived by the reporter to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, whether “a reasonable person considers the report to be motivated by hostility or prejudice” towards protected characteristics and whether it has “a policing purpose” are both taken into account.