Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said policing of the future would be less about “hand-holding” and “cups of tea” and more about computer experts working remotely to beat sophisticated online criminals.
In an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Flanagan also said the burden on the police could be reduced by allowing the public to report some incidents on the internet.
The SPA, a police watchdog, has tasked Deloitte with helping draw up a long-term strategic plan for Police Scotland.
Mr Flanagan, a chartered accountant and former chief executive of the NSPCC, said there would always be a visible police presence, but he said the police needed a better “blend” of officers and civilians.
He said: “Let’s say you’ve been the victim of an internet fraud, would you expect someone to come round to your house in full uniform or would you prefer a highly qualified internet specialist sitting in a darkened room somewhere trying to solve the crime?
“A pensioner who has lost their life savings will be more reassured to get their savings back or having someone caught than someone coming round and having a cup of tea with them.
“This is the debate we have to have with society. Do you want this more hand-holding, reassuring aspect, or do you want effective policing.”
Statistics released yesterday showed recorded crime continuing to fall but there is growing concern about the level of criminality taking place online, much of which goes unreported.
Last week Chief Constable Phil Gormley said Police Scotland’s budget could be better spent on new technology than simply employing more staff.
Mr Flanagan said: “There’s this easy logic that having more police officers means less crime. I don’t buy that.
“Do I need a fully warranted police officer or someone with different sets of skills? If I need someone who is going to be an internet expert, is it best to have a police officer who has been trained to do that work, or is best to get 50 graduates from Dundee University who have never been to Tulliallan [the police training college], who will never wear a uniform and who were probably borderline hackers themselves?”
He added: “I want the people who are best. We will have some jobs that people will never want to wear a uniform for. We need a blended workforce.”