Reducing officer numbers can help make Police Scotland “leaner” and more able to respond to emerging crime threats, it has been claimed.
Chief Superintendent Gordon Crossan, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), said the national force had to “think differently” and stop defining itself by headcount.
Last month Police Scotland said officer numbers would fall by 400 over the next few years as part of a ten-year strategy to hire more civilian specialists and increase reliance on technology.
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Writing in The Scotsman today, Mr Crossan said it was important to judge Scottish policing on its results, not overall officer numbers.
He said: “There is no doubt in my mind that there is scope for Police Scotland to become smarter, leaner and more effective to respond to this future. Officer reductions will be unpopular, but as part of the overall public sector reform we do need to look at innovative ways of improving service delivery, even when that service is currently built almost completely on people and their actions.”
Launched last month by Chief Constable Phil Gormley and the Scottish Police Authority, Policing 2026 sets out a long-term vision for Police Scotland. As part of the plan, officer recruitment will slow, leading to an overall reduction of 400 officers by the end of 2020.
Meanwhile, a total of 300 officers currently in back office roles such as HR and finance will be released back into frontline duties, while 170 civilian specialists will be recruited.
The draft strategy document also highlights an increasing reliance on technology, including the use of body-worn cameras, the reporting of crime through an “online self-service portal” and the use of video calls with some victims of crime instead of face-to-face meetings.
A long-standing SNP commitment to maintain officer numbers at 1,000 above 2007 levels was dropped from the party’s last manifesto, but the Scottish Government has said it expects to see numbers remaining “significantly above” those it inherited a decade ago.
Mr Crossan said Policing 2026 provided a “rare opportunity” for Police Scotland to re-shape itself for the future.
He said: “I suggest the service, and those who scrutinise us and hold us to account, needs to think differently and stop defining itself through officer and staff numbers.
“Instead, we need to judge ourselves, and be judged, on the effect our people and what they do has across the communities we serve.”
He added: “While not without its challenges, the Policing 2026 strategy is also a rare opportunity to change policing in Scotland to improve outcomes for communities, at the same time continuing to provide policing that is the envy of the world.”
Launching the strategy last month, Mr Gormley said his force was currently being “constrained” by budget challenges and had to “transform” to meet both those and the crime threats of the future.