Chris Marshall: Bobbies on beat paying high price

THERE was much for the top brass at Police Scotland to consider yesterday following the publication of a damning report on stop and search from HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland.

The closure of local control rooms has led to non-emergency calls being constantly lost. Picture: Julie Bull

But had Sir Stephen House, the chief constable, been at the conference of the Scottish Police Federation – taking place at Turnberry this week – he would have also heard a litany of concerns from the rank and file which undermine the effectiveness of Scotland’s single force.

During a debate about the impact of police reform, member after member of the SPF took to the floor to express their fears and frustrations about a force which seems to be exerting considerable stress on its officers.

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Allan Symington, an inspector based in Edinburgh, said that with extra resources being deployed to high-priority areas such as domestic abuse cases and missing person inquiries, there was “virtually no-one left” to attend routine calls.

“The number of cops haven’t increased, but the demands have,” he told delegates. He said officers were “stressed and broken”.

Gary Mitchell, representing officers in the west of the country, said CID officers were struggling to secure crime scenes at night due to a reduction in forensic teams.

He said the way officers were treated during last year’s Commonwealth Games was “one of the most appalling things I’ve been involved in during 23 years’ service” and likened the policing operation to being put on a “war footing”.

The conference also heard of sickness levels being “through the roof”, and workloads for young officers “taking them to the max”.

The closure of local control rooms has led to non-emergency 101 calls being “constantly lost”, with dozens of calls left “unactioned”.

“We’ve all heard of death by a thousands cuts, but we’re dying a death of a million cuts,” one delegate told the conference.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be able to hear such concerns first hand when she appears at a leaders’ question time event at the conference today.

While the fallout from stop-and-search might be the most pressing issue on her justice secretary’s to-do list, the larger question of how police officers deal with the burgeoning demands of the “tick-box culture” so reviled by those just trying to keep out streets safe will need to be tackled eventually.

With the notable exception of stop and search, Police Scotland has much to be proud of for the way it has re-organised eight regional forces at a time of cost-cutting.

However, it seems that cost-cutting has come at a heavy price for many of its own officers.