Police Scotland: Out with the old and in with brave new world

The second of a three-part series marking the birth of Scotland’s single constabulary

STANDING at attention outside police HQ on Fettes Avenue in full dress uniform, David Strang watched solemnly as the force flag was lowered from its mast for a final time.

The simple blue flag – bearing the name of Lothian and Borders Police – was folded neatly and handed to him by a former city commander, Allan Shanks, with a crisp salute.

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Mr Strang set to end his policing career on Monday as the force’s fifth and final chief constable – offered his own salute as the ceremony came to an emotional close. In the background, the massed ranks of the police pipe band played a lament as more than a few of the gathered guests felt moved to tears.

Last Saturday’s flag lowering event was the band’s last-ever performance ahead of the force being replaced by Police Scotland on Monday.

As he prepares for retirement, Mr Strang has noticed both sadness and excitement amongst colleagues in the corridors and offices of Fettes as some near the end of their days in uniform and others look forward to new roles in the revamped service.

The 54-year-old said: “The flag lowering was a moving event and a fitting way to mark 38 years of the force’s history.

“But on Monday the work will continue. The police will still protect the public and catch criminals. It’s not the time for sadness but for enormous satisfaction.”

Mr Strang marks the completion of exactly six years in the top job today, bringing to an end a career which began with the Metropolitan Police in 1980. The father-of-three was chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway when he was selected to lead L&B, a force he first joined as an assistant chief constable in 1998.

He said: “My commitment to community policing was probably the hallmark of my time with Dumfries and Galloway. There were seven candidates interviewed for the Lothian and Borders job and I believe that was why I was chosen.

“We had a good history of community policing here but we’ve taken that to a different level. Our emphasis has been on trying to prevent crime before it happens and engage with the local community. The force area is a safer place, crime is down, public surveys show greater satisfaction in the work of police.”

Showing obvious pride in the last six years, Mr Strang cites the “dismantling” of several organised crime gangs in the Capital and the 100 per cent arrest rate for murders as other highlights of his tenure.

He said: “There have been some high-profile cases such as the Suzanne Pilley case, which saw David Gilroy jailed for murder, and historical cases brought to a conclusion like the conviction of Peter Tobin for the murder of Vicky Hamilton in 1991. These cases were the result of painstaking detective work.”

The former Loretto schoolboy spent nearly two decades at the start of his career in London, but the move back to Scotland eventually brought him his “ideal job” in Edinburgh.

He said: “During the last six years we’ve had events like UK Armed Forces Day or the wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall or the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

“And with things like taking the salute at the Military Tattoo, it gives you very special memories. The teamwork here has been really strong and I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of really good people. I think that will be what I remember most. That and being at the heart of Edinburgh and so many of the things that make the city great.”

But the last two years have brought challenges Mr Strang could not have expected when he took over in March 2007. The financial crisis necessitated both massive cutbacks in his budget and fostered the move to a single force across the country.

He said: “For 15 years as a senior officer in Scotland, we had increasing budgets. But in common with other public services we’ve had to adjust to shrinking ones.

“Sadly we lost around 120 support staff, which was a real downsizing in order to meet budgets, but there has been increasing police officer 

The most powerful influence Mr Strang believes he has exacted on the make-up of the single force is the example set in L&B. Mr Strang’s business card is embossed simply with just his name and the force’s motto of recent years, ‘Work with us’, and he is particularly pleased that this “constant theme” has been made a central tenet of the single force.

Despite his pride at the force’s accomplishments and his role in spearheading this work, Mr Strang is not without regrets. He said: “Road casualties is an area where I would’ve liked to have had a bigger impact. To lose a loved one in a road crash is devastating. And there are still too many people killed or seriously injured on our roads. We’ve done work in schools and with local authorities but I wish we could’ve done more.”

Mr Strang said that he had no plans for the future “at the moment”, aside from spending time with his wife Allison and their three children, and sitting on the board of charities he supports.

He added: “I think people here overwhelmingly feel proud of what Lothian 
and Borders Police has achieved. What is happening now is not a funeral, but a celebration of all that has been done.

“It’s been a huge privilege for me to serve as chief constable and have a leadership role in public service. I’ve been the guardian or steward of that responsibility, and now I’m passing it on to the next generation of 

Wide-ranging career

GLASGOW-born David Strang, who has a BSc in Engineering Science from the University of Durham and an MSc in Organisational Behaviour from the University of London, first joined the Met in 1980.

He was on duty at the heart of the Brixton riots in the following year and quickly rose through the ranks, with operational postings in several territorial divisions and in CID. His final post in the London force was as divisional commander of Wembley Division. After a three-year stint at Lothian and Borders Police as assistant chief constable, he was appointed chief constable in Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary in 2001 before returning to start the top job at Fettes in March 2007.

A past president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos), he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2002.