EDINBURGH City Council is believed to be the first local authority in Scotland to cut extra funding for dedicated community policing, following claims that officers have been redeployed elsewhere.
The Scotsman understands that local authority leaders are no longer satisfied that the entire £2.7 million it provides is being used to the benefit of communities. It intends to slash funding by £2m over the four financial years from April 2014, according to its new draft budget.
Holyrood politicians and residents’ groups claimed they have seen a reduction in patrols and attendance at community events in recent months, following the launch of the new single force, Police Scotland.
Critics claimed the new model is an example of a “Strathclyde-style” approach being rolled out across Scotland, with the emphasis on what opponents claim is stop and searches, and units in response vehicles.
Force chiefs have strongly denied a shift away from community focus. They say they could not account for the perceived drop – which is anecdotal, though widespread – but insisted Police Scotland intends to deploy more officers in such roles.
Lesley Hinds, the former lord provost and a senior council leader, said the local authority felt it has “no influence in how these officers are being deployed” since the launch of Police Scotland in April.
She added: “We noticed a massive difference in north Edinburgh in antisocial behaviour when this first launched in 2003, with police working with schools, schools working with housing officers, and all working on the same cases.
“But we have to ask, if that is no longer the case then should we pay for it? And there is an issue here which may be relevant for the whole of Scotland.”
It follows criticism that chief constable Sir Stephen House, formerly of Strathclyde, has modelled all policing on the ex-Glasgow force.
This included 150 officers raiding Edinburgh’s saunas. Glasgow has traditionally taken a zero-tolerance stance against the sex industry.
There has also been a doubling in Edinburgh of stop and searches between April and June which were controversially used by Sir Stephen in Glasgow to crack down on armed gangs.
Ian Murray, the Edinburgh South MP, said when 36 extra police officers were first deployed, there were over 800 calls a month in Liberton/Gilmerton alone about antisocial behaviour – now estimated to be in the tens.
He said: “There was always a fear Police Scotland would become “Strathclyde-ised”, and local communities all over Edinburgh will not want to lose their local community beat police link. If they are no longer to be on the streets in local areas then it is reasonable to assess the funding.”
Willie Rennie MSP, the Liberal Democrat leader, added: “The one-size-fits-all Strathclyde solution may have been right for Strathclyde, but there seems to be an assumption it will be right for everyone else too.”
Assistant chief constable Mike McCormick, from Police Scotland, said: “Police Scotland is aware of the City of Edinburgh Council’s proposed reduction in funding for policing in the capital.
“We continue to work very closely with our council colleagues whilst monitoring the situation and are looking at ways to mitigate against any consequential impact on frontline police numbers.”
Jean Thompson, from Morningside Community Council, said: “It’s difficult to emphasise how important they have been. Having a dedicated officer in Morningside/Comiston means that they know the publicans, the shops that might sell alcohol to underage people, and where youths might be causing trouble. It’s the same officer or the same few anyway.”
Paul Godzik, a councillor in south Edinburgh, said that officers had told him that their roles were under review.
He said: “Having spoken to a number of officers and community representatives there is real concern over the future of community beat officers.
“There are obvious questions over why our once successful model is now under review, but it looks very much like a ‘one size fits all’ approach being directed from above.”
COSLA said that the issue would have to be examined.
David Kennedy, a spokesman for the umbrella council group, said: “This is rightly and properly an operational budgetary decision taken by the council based on local need and priority.”
Community beat officers, like those previously deployed in the city’s Youth Action Team, work to prevent antisocial behaviour, clamp down on underage drinking, forge close relationships with businesses owners, visit schools and attend local community council meetings.
Figures show that before L&B Police was axed, Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian contributed more towards community policing that any other councils in Scotland in 2012/13, with the latter three giving about £500,000-£600,000 for extra patrols every year.
Glasgow supplied £3.2m but for a far larger area. Eleven councils did not fund extra policing at all.
Edinburgh City Council will vote on the draft budget in February, for the financial year beginning in April 2014.