Chris Marshall: Police challenges extend beyond Games

THE Commonwealth Games will provide a fantastic showcase for Glasgow, but it will also bring one of the toughest tests yet for the country’s nascent police force.

Glasgow 2014 will also bring one of the toughest tests yet for Police Scotland. Picture: Getty

Formed on 1 April last year, Police Scotland saw the merger of the country’s eight regional forces, with plans to save £1.1 billion by 2026.

So far it’s fair to say it has been a mixed bag. While there have been positives around organisational changes, there have been controversies over a one-size-fits-all approach to policing. Nowhere has this been more apparent than the current debate over the routine arming of officers.

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Last week pictures emerged of three officers with sidearms being sent to deal with a minor incident at a McDonald’s in Inverness. Separately, a motorist in Aberdeen claimed he was questioned by four armed officers for an alleged traffic offence.

Chief Constable Stephen House has defended the need to arm his officers, and their presence is likely to be felt during the Games in Glasgow. But although Scotland is a small country, the way policing is carried out in our cities and in our smaller communities is not, and should not be, the same.

There are also murmurings of disquiet from within the force itself. Officers have been angered at being forced to take on extra hours and travel large distances to provide security for the Commonwealth Games.

An anonymous e-mail sent to The Scotsman earlier this month claimed the rank and file were “furious over the latest bullying tactics from senior officers”, which would see officers make their own way home from Games venues after 64 hours either working or driving over a four-day stretch.

Then there is the accusation that, since the formation of the single force, it has become more difficult for women to progress through the ranks. Senior officers have warned that the removal of “mobility protection” – which limited relocation under the previous eight forces – has put off those with childcare and other home commitments applying for promotion.

Speaking out on the issue, the Scottish Women’s Development Forum (SWDF), a police staff association, said the new force was “not trusted” and had risked alienating anyone unable to comply. For its part, Police Scotland has denied that mobility protection has been removed.

All of this speaks to the underlying discontent in sections of the police force. Those at the top will no doubt put it down to the teething problems associated with reorganisation, but they are likely to face questions from MSPs over routine arming and the controversial tactic of stop and search when the Scottish Parliament reconvenes in August.