Police Scotland is reverting to the model of using police boxes, the acting chief constable has said, with officers stationed in cafés, supermarkets and community centres in an attempt to reach more people.
Iain Livingstone said fewer police stations were needed as tablet computers and smartphones allowed officers to keep up with paperwork and crime reports while remaining visible to the public.
His comments follow years of controversy over cuts to public opening hours at police stations and the loss of police counters across Scotland as the national police force, formed from the merger of eight regional forces five years ago yesterday, pushes for greater savings.
“We no longer need to have the majority of officers sitting in police stations hard-wired into a desktop computer,” Mr Livingstone said.
“With mobile devices, they can be in a vehicle, moving around their communities, setting up for a while in a community centre, library, café, wherever people gather.
“They would be able to access crime reports or write reports then move on to the next location.
“One of the benefits would be greater visibility to the public. The public would feel the police was more accessible to them.”
Mr Livingstone, a former head of Lothian and Borders CID, added: “We will always need buildings, but policing is changing rapidly. We no longer need all the old ones we still pay to maintain.”
Police Scotland has already reached agreements to rent space in community centres and public buildings as an alternative to traditional police stations.
The acting chief constable said the force should be “completely flexible” and suggested the change in approach was a return to the days of police boxes, which used to be a fixture of city life.
Mr Livingstone said: “Ideally, we won’t need a dedicated space. The idea is that officers should just be out where they’re needed.
“So in urban places, it’s likely to be in buildings the public use. In rural areas, they might be asked to park at the side of a road or in the car park of places like the visitor centre at Glencoe.”
He added: “People can be quite nostalgic about the old police boxes because there was a feeling your local officers were visible and you could get to know them.
“As ever-improving IT enables us to become more mobile and less tied to an office base, we will be reverting to that model in a way that fits the modern world.”