Rose Fitzpatrick: Strength and safety in unity

TOMORROW sees the start of a new national police service, ­Police Scotland. The ten organisations, including eight separate police forces, which have until now delivered policing across the country will join forces to work as one single ­policing service. Our focus will be on keeping people safe.

The people we serve should rightly continue to expect an excellent quality of service from their police. Much of what we do will remain the same and be familiar to them – they will see little change. People will continue to see the same ­community officers policing their local areas – officers who know the issues that affect the public they serve.

When people call for our help in an emergency, or when they ask us for advice, the same dedicated staff and officers will respond. Local policing will remain at the heart of what we do.

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So what will be different? Police Scotland will have more than 17,234 police officers and more than 6,000 police staff working together across the country, with the single focus of keeping people safe. What we do will be based on what people have told us is important to them where they live. It will be easier to contact us and to hold us to account for tackling the problems of crime and safety that most affect them. Communities across Scotland, regardless of geography, will have fairer access to specialist police support to tackle more complex issues.

Some of that change is already in place, and demonstrating why the new single police force will improve the service to the public. Since March, the new Police Scotland Specialist Crime Division has provided a network of detectives across Scotland to support local policing teams.

Previously, individual smaller forces may not have had the capacity to tackle complex cases such as murder investigations without taking officers away from local policing. This new approach has also already provided better support to local policing in rape cases and cases of ­suspected human trafficking, bringing the knowledge of local officers together with specialist expertise in investigating these complex crimes.

The specialist crime division has also been able to take on murders and other complex investigations, allowing local ­policing to continue without interruption or reduction.

Also in place is the new national single non-emergency number, 101. People no longer need to remember different numbers for contacting us when it’s not an emergency, depending on wherever they happen to be when they need our advice. They can now dial 101, wherever they are, and get straight through to us. And we know this is improving the service for the public, because more and more people are using the national number.

We have consulted with communities across Scotland and we know that some of their most common concerns involve anti-social behaviour, violence, drugs and road safety. From tomorrow, there will be a ­local policing plan for each of the 32 ­local authority areas and for every one of the 353 multi-member ward areas. We will report progress on those plans regularly so that people can hold us to account. This will ensure that policing across Scotland is directed at local issues and reflects the needs of our diverse communities.

For the first time, we will have a single national annual police plan, giving a consistent national approach to tackling problems such as serious violence, sexual crime, child protection, domestic abuse and organised crime. This will ensure that we are protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, wherever they live.

Police Scotland will also allow us to deliver a better, more consistent service in other ways from tomorrow.

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Whether responding to major incidents, extreme weather conditions or preparing for large-scale events such as the Commonwealth Games, we will be able to make sure we use our officers efficiently and that those areas which need extra resources to keep people safe get them quickly and appropriately.

From tomorrow, the focus of Police Scotland will be on keeping people safe. No matter where people live or what they do, they will have access to a policing service which is professional, effective, responds to their needs and is one of which we can all be proud.

• Rose Fitzpatrick is deputy chief constable of Police Scotland