Comment: Centralised policing hinders confidence

Scotland's single police force 'risks losing public's confidence'. Picture: ContributedScotland's single police force 'risks losing public's confidence'. Picture: Contributed
Scotland's single police force 'risks losing public's confidence'. Picture: Contributed
THERE is a growing unease in some of our communities. A relationship which has been carefully developed over decades has changed. And only one of the partners has a say in the new set-up.

Interaction now must be with an increasingly distant centre of power and a hierarchy whose understanding and appreciation of local circumstances is under scrutiny.

And running through it all is the fear that this is all about politics and not what is best for the local community.

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It is three years since the SNP proposals for a single police force were at the centre of the Holyrood election campaign.

Only the Liberal Democrats opposed it. Our warnings that it could mean centralisation, closure of 
regional facilities and loss of connection with local communities were dismissed by the SNP.

And all, of course, with that favourite word which is trotted out every time another party expresses doubt about an SNP policy: scaremongering.

Well, here we are three years later, front desks are closing, there will be no emergency call centres north of the central belt and officers will be dispatched to 999 and 101 calls from Dundee for everywhere from that city north to the very tip of ­Shetland.

On top of that, local courts are closing. The application of justice feels in danger of becoming distant for some of us outside the central belt.

But while the SNP trots out its arguments about efficiencies and cost saving, there is a much greater danger that it overlooks.

It is that growing uneasiness in areas like rural Aberdeenshire that somehow the methods of this new police force are not appropriate to their communities.

Increasingly, events like the appearance of mounted police in Aberdeen and the Highlands are being questioned.

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There are murmurings of big-city tactics and a “greater Strathclyde” approach to policing.

If the problem is not tackled soon it could begin to undermine community relations and a faith in the local service developed over many decades by the former forces in Grampian, the Highlands and Borders.

It is a dislocation that none of us with the best interests of our communities at heart want to see.

And before that “S” word is trotted out again, let’s look at a case in point. Stop and search.

The incidence of stop and search has increased from just over 3,000 in what was then the Grampian Police area in the first six months of 2012 to more than 5,000 in the same period of 2013 in the same region under 
Police Scotland.

And North-east MSP Alison McInnes has warned of the danger of an increasingly target-led strategy.

In the past year around 750,000 people have been stopped and searched across Scotland.

Are these big city tactics really the best thing for all of Scotland?

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To be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting for a minute that there is a danger of any loss of confidence in the local police officers themselves.

No. The question on many of our minds is whether the specific needs of our communities are being taken into account by those directing strategy and political policy from the 
central belt.

If people begin to believe that the answer is “no”, whether the perception is correct or not, the confidence which has been built up over decades could be lost.

If that happens we will all be losers. «

Christine Jardine is a Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate in the European Parliament elections on 22 May