Police union will tackle evolution of crime

Lower overall crime figures, but racist and domestic abuse incidents rise
Lower overall crime figures, but racist and domestic abuse incidents rise
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in THE the early 18th century, shortly after the Act of Union, the Scottish Enlightenment ensured that Scotland became one of the intellectual powerhouses of Europe. Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and Scotland’s impact and influence reached around the world.

Now 300 years later, a different union is about to take place. Scotland’s eight police forces will merge next year to form a single national police force.

About 17,000 officers from the eight forces will combine to form the Police Service of Scotland. It will be the second largest force in the UK. The service will have a strength of just over 50 per cent of the Metropolitan Police Service, serving an area 50 times larger than the Greater London area policed by the Met.

The eight current Scottish forces were themselves formed from the 20 smaller forces that existed prior to 1975. We will soon have the clearest police force boundaries: those of our coasts and the Border, with the separate legal jurisdiction of England.

This evolutionary process demonstrates our police service has changed and adapted to meet new circumstances and new challenges over time. It must and will continue to do so, working with other public services, other sectors and other countries.

For centuries, most crime involved an offender, a victim and a scene of crime that were geographically close to each other.

Several social changes have combined to alter this situation. Widespread car ownership, better roads, a global transport infrastructure and international mobile phone networks have provided new opportunities to the public and the criminal alike.

Likewise, wider availability of computers and the internet have delivered faster access to more information, as well as the ability to commit crime remotely and profitably.

Every day, cyberspace is a meeting place, a reference library, a discussion forum, a town square, a supermarket, and a high street. But every day, cyberspace is also a scene of crime, witnessing and inadvertently communicating criminal, hostile and fraudulent activities.

With all these changes in our society, it is no surprise that the criminal fraternity have readily embraced and exploited them, at least as much as the law-abiding public.

The world has become smaller place. Events thousands of miles away can have almost instantaneous effects here in Scotland. To serve local communities effectively, the Police Service of Scotland must also have the knowledge, capacity and support to work with colleagues and other organisations across Europe and the world on a daily basis.

These changes in society and how it functions, and the parallel changes in crime, combine to present the police with new challenges. Scientific and technological advances have given the police a more capable armoury, not to mention better personal protection.

Many more professions now contribute to policing and criminal justice than a generation ago (I don’t recall any TV programme called CSI Dock Green). Evidence in a criminal court may now include complex and multi-faceted forensic evidence (DNA, trace chemicals, digital footprints, ballistics, probabilities, etc). One challenge for the police and the criminal justice system is to understand, test and communicate the evidential strength of these fresh sources and types of evidence: and this requires the police service and the criminal justice system to understand and collaborate effectively with a greater diversity of professions. A further challenge is how to translate traditional practices of evidence-gathering into the virtual world.

The challenge for the police to connect with communities has evolved, especially as there are many more communities – defined by not just their location but also their common interest – with which to connect. This challenge cannot be solved by science and technology alone. And the greater incidence of cross-border crime requires the police to follow trails of crime, evidence and criminal knowledge internationally.

This assessment of policing in Scotland today is precisely why the International Policing Conference in Edinburgh this week will focus on “Connections”, and more specifically on four conference themes: connecting communities; connecting professions; connecting with Europe; and connecting data.The conference is organised by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, and supported by both the Scottish Government and the data management specialists Logica (now part of CGI). Plenary speakers will include Kenny MacAskill MSP, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice; Vic Emery, the new chairman of the Scottish Police Authority; and Stephen House, the first chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland.

Other speakers will include senior police officers, academics, experts from industry and from other interested bodies. This conference will both demonstrate the progress that has been made by the police in Scotland and beyond, and encourage further progress in police capabilities, collaboration, efficiency and effectiveness.

You may be familiar with the painting by Charles Hardie of the only occasion when Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, met Scotland’s greatest author, Walter Scott. Most of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment had gathered in the one room in 1786: Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, James Hutton, John Home and Joseph Black, hosted by Adam Ferguson in his house just a mile from the venue for the conference.

I don’t expect an artist to be on hand at our conference, but I am confident that the delegates will discuss the future of policing, both in Scotland and beyond, just as earnestly as those Scottish luminaries debated a rapidly changing world of ideas two and a quarter centuries ago.

l Paddy Tomkins is a former Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland

The International Policing Conference takes place on Thursday at The Hub on the Royal Mile, in Edinburgh, from 9:30am