Malcolm Graham: Vigilant police won’t turn blind eye

POLICING adapts to the changing world in which we live – and the way that criminals exploit those changes.

'The police service is there to keep people safe.' Picture: Julie Bull

With increased migration and advances in technology, the way sex is sold has also adapted to the world around it. Police Scotland is alive to that and our approach to dealing with prostitution is built on targeting organised criminality, protecting those at risk of exploitation and harm and supporting victims.

The phrase “turn a blind eye” is sometimes used to describe a perceived approach to policing the sex industry in parts of Scotland prior to the introduction of Police Scotland, the new single policing service, and which – according to some – has been superseded by a new zero tolerance policing style imported from elsewhere in the country.

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As a former Lothian and Borders Police officer, and now leading on major crime and public protection for Police Scotland, “turning a blind eye” isn’t something I experienced as a detective or as Edinburgh commander. It’s not an approach that bears any resemblance to how Police Scotland works or how any individual officer would respond to criminality or harm.

There has been no policy change from Police Scotland. Neither has there been a new approach dictated or directed from one part of the country or the other.

The police service is there to keep people safe. We do that by targeting criminal activity, those who orchestrate it, and by protecting those who are at risk of harm, the most vulnerable and supporting victims. Put simply, we would be failing the public if we adopted the “turned a blind eye” approach. We would also be failing the public if we did not act when we suspected criminality and harm.

Tackling prostitution is a complex and challenging area. There are strong views about it from many quarters. There are equally strong views expressed about how policing should be shaped and respond.

Different areas experience different types and varying levels of crime. At the heart of our new national service lies the ability for our officers and staff to deliver effective and responsive policing which is tailored to local circumstances, issues and intelligence.

Local police commanders work with their councils on policing plans which are informed and shaped with local input and consultation. These help drive forward policing so that we focus on the areas that matter most in our communities.

What is also clear is that it is only sensible and logical that a single police service should have a single strategic approach. Equally clear though, is that policing responses can be tailored to deal with local circumstances.

Police officers are focused on targeting criminal activity, protecting those who might be at risk of harm, and working with partners to make our communities safer.

Police Scotland targeted those very issues in Edinburgh last week in an operation which centred on off-street prostitution in licensed saunas. Building on earlier intelligence-led operations in the capital, we know that saunas are often not the safe havens they are portrayed as. Yes, the licensing regime allowed for greater levels of monitoring and inspection. Months in the planning, our activity uncovered at least two women who reported having been trafficked, serious sexual crime, drugs offences, and criminal proceeds seized.

We have dedicated officers in Glasgow who work with Routes Out, which leads a multi-agency response to on-street prostitution activity that is more prevalent in Glasgow than elsewhere.

Officers in Aberdeen have been successful in their collaborative and sustainable approach to diverting victims away from prostitution. This has led to a decrease in the number of prostitutes working on the streets of the city and associated crime. Within the last two weeks, a brothel in Aberdeen was also the subject of police enforcement. In the recent past, officers in the Forth Valley targeted domestic addresses – in residential areas where their neighbours were law-abiding members of the community – where single women were working from.

The single force – with nationally- 
co-ordinated specialist teams and officers working in support of local policing – has provided a real opportunity to continue that work with a refocused national approach which helps shape the high quality of policing locally that we have both a duty to provide and a desire to deliver.

• Malcolm Graham is assistant chief constable, major crime and public protection, Police Scotland