Police accused of box-ticking as officers told to get tough on… public urination

THE relationship between police and the Scottish public is under threat as a result of a new "tick-box" culture that forces officers to meet targets on the number of arrests, it has been claimed.

Forces across Scotland have introduced "key performance indicators", which set goals for arrests, seizures and detections for a range of crimes.

But now the organisation that represents officers in Strathclyde – the country's largest force – argues the targets are being misused and are taking the discretion out of policing.

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It also believes that most members of the public are unaware of the existence of police targets.

The Scotsman can reveal that the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) is to debate a motion calling for a rethink of the performance indicators many believe are driving up the number of people fined for urinating in the street or breaching the peace.

Forces across Scotland have increasingly adopted such targets in a move some regular officers believe is distracting them from catching more serious criminals, burdening them with extra paperwork and stripping them of their discretion.

Chief officers and the politicians who oversee them, however, see performance indicators as part of a whole new infrastructure designed to make the rank-and-file more accountable to the public than ever before.

The SPF at its annual conference later this month will debate a motion condemning performance indicators from its biggest branch, Strathclyde.

The motion calls for a debate "on the use and misuse of performance indicators and the negative impact they are having upon operational policing, the use of police officers' discretion and community relations".

The Strathclyde branch, in a statement, added: "It is now time to make the public aware of police officers' dissatisfaction with this form of micromanagement, which could ultimately fracture community relations at the expense of statistics and a tick-box culture."

Strathclyde Police, which covers almost half of Scotland, has already come under fire for setting targets to increase detection of public urination by 20 per cent and serious assault by 2 per cent.

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Force insiders increasingly admit they are frustrated by having to constantly book public urinators – who are now subject to a 40 fixed-penalty notice or fine – regardless of the circumstances.

One veteran constable told The Scotsman: "We used to be able to use our own discretion, so if we thought a slap in the wrist was needed, we would give someone a telling-off and move on. Not everybody who gets caught short in the street is a menace."

The number of fines dished out for antisocial behaviour in Scotland has leapt since they were introduced in 2007.

Forty thousand 40 fixed-penalties were issued in Strathclyde alone in 2009, a jump of 41 per cent from 2008.

Police officers have privately admitted that the reason for the rise is that local divisional commanders want to look good by hitting – or exceeding – targets.

Conservative MSP Bill Aitken, was responsible for judging several people, usually drunk men, for urinating in public when he was a Glasgow justice of the peace. He reckons the Strathclyde federation has a point, and said: "I have considerable sympathy with their view. Police officers should be trusted to deal with such offenders as they see fit."

A spokesman for Strathclyde Police vigorously defended the performance indicators set by the force. "This is not about ticking a box," he said. "It is about reducing crime and making our communities safer.

"The results speak for themselves. As a result of carrying out more stop-and-searches and taking a more pro-active approach to policing, murders are down, serious assaults are down and we are seeing fewer knives and other weapons on our streets.

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"We don't want to wait until people become a victim of crime and then help them pick up the pieces

"There is nothing wrong with setting targets to reduce certain types of crime. The public should expect nothing less."

Strathclyde force targets, 2007-2010

Cut the number of robberies by 6%

Boost the detection rate for serious assaults from 48% to 50%.

Increase the number of stop and searches by 7%.

Increase the number of detections for urinating in a public place by 20%.

Increase the number of detections for carrying of knives/bladed instruments by 5%.

Increase the number of detections for consuming alcohol in a public place by 41%.

Cut reported vandalism by 3%.

Increase the number of arrests of prominent crime individuals by 29%.

Increase seizures of firearms and ammunition by 36%.

Increase the number of counter-terrorism intelligence reports by 10%.