Police reforms ‘clunky and stressful’ but necessary

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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VIC Emery, the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, likes to compare the momentous reform that the police service has undergone over the last year with moving house.

He talks of juggling the family while looking after the day job, acknowledging that it is “clunky” and “stressful”.

Ultimately, however, once you are in the new house you know that you don’t want to go back and you want to concentrate on working on building a future.

Emery is correct to acknowledge that there have been some extremely tricky teething problems over the past year.

Merging eight forces plus the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency has been done against a background of budget cuts, which are required to hit a target of £1.1 billion of financial savings by 2026.

The challenge which that presents was put into stark relief last when the force admitted it was almost £10 million short of balancing their budget for the year ahead despite identifying £58.4m of cuts.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to keeping officer numbers up at the present level of 17,257 has closed one avenue for potential savings. So the casualties have tended to be the civilian staff, who have seen their numbers fall by 1,727 from its 2010 high of 7,862 to the current level of 6,135.

That loss of civilian staff has led to concerns that uniformed officers will be taken off the beat to man the vacant desks.

Also hugely controversial has been the closure of police stations and control rooms. With around 60 police counters earmarked for closure across the country to save cash, there is a feeling that officers are becoming more removed from the communities that they serve.

Perhaps it was inevitable that centralisation would bring with it a feeling of local detachment, but it has also led to a clash of policing cultures. The appointment of Sir Stephen House, formerly the boss of the Strathclyde force, as Police Scotland supremo means that his style of leadership and his vision has been adopted across the country.

That “Strathclydisation” has proved particularly controversial in Edinburgh, where the old Lothian and Borders approach to policing brothels has been superceded by Strathclyde’s zero tolerance approach.

The rejection of the long-standing system whereby saunas were licensed has caused tension among Edinburgh-based officers, many of whom believed their system prevented prostitution from being driven underground.

That view contrasts with the Strathclyde approach, which proponents believe is the best way to tackle human trafficking.

On more mundane matters, another example of the “clunky” snagging problems experienced over the last 12 months has been the difficulties caused by the force computer system – a difficulty which has not just inconvenienced officers but taken up much parliamentary time.

To go back to Emery’s comparison, the move has been made and there is no turning back but huge challenges remain.