Scotland’s national police force is operating with “diminishing resources” and becoming “increasingly stretched” in its attempts to engage with local communities, according to those on the frontline.
An evaluation of police reform heard from Police Scotland officers that community policing is being “hampered” by other organisational pressures.
An evaluation of police and fire service reform heard from Police Scotland officers that community policing is being “hampered” by other organisational pressures.
The report by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR) also found low morale among officers, with many no longer considering policing a “job for life”.
Concerns were also raised about the under-reporting of crime due to the public’s frustration with the non-emergency 101 phone line.
The SIPR, a collaboration between 13 of Scotland’s universities and Police Scotland, interviewed police officers, local councillors, community organisations and members of the public.
It noted the police have continued to provide a “valued service” to the public since the creation of the national force in 2013, with an improved capacity to deal with major incidents. But it said there are concerns among officers and the public that there is less of a visible police presence and that local resources are more likely to be spread over larger geographical areas.
The report states: “The perceptions of those involved in the routine delivery of local services was that they are operating with diminishing resources, that work to strengthen connections with communities was often hampered by other organisational pressures, and the reductions in the budgets of other public services sometimes frustrated attempts to work more collaboratively.
“For many local police officers and firefighters, therefore, their experience and perceptions of the reform journey were mixed and whil’e they saw benefits they also had anxieties, particularly around what reform means to them in terms of their day-to-day working environment and longer term career development.”
The report adds: “If a model based around a visible presence delivered through general patrols, routine attendance at community meetings and a network of police officers is no longer sustainable and is not well suited to changing demands on the police service, then the contours of an alternative more transformational approach to delivering local policing need to be defined.”
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “This is a damning report, exposing the great many problems that exist within the SNP’s single police force.
“There’s no doubt that on the SNP’s watch, things have gone down hill. Its project was meant to make Scotland safer, policing better, and establish a more transparent and accountable force.
“Instead, this report suggests the opposite has occurred and our dedicated, professional and brave police service are being held back by political decisions. ”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Claire Baker added: “Under the SNP’s watch, our emergency services have seen crisis follow crisis as a result of budget cuts and poor leadership.
“We welcome the improvements that this report notes and its recognition of the dedicated officers and staff, who are working hard to keep our communities safe. However, they are doing so despite the decisions taken by the SNP government.”
The research, which is evaluating police and fire service reform, is costing £280,000 over four years.
This year’s report was completed several months ago but only published yesterday by the Scottish Government. It is based on interviews with police officers and firefighters carried out between June and August last year. Concerns were expressed over the closure of local police stations and officers having to cover wider geographical areas.
The report said members of the public had expressed dissatisfaction with the non-emergency 101 number and the difficulty of speaking to a local officer, which had led to some low-level crime or suspicious behaviour not being reported.
Police officers felt changes in working conditions, such as the lack of overtime, reduced pensions and increased workloads had led to many experienced officers leaving the service and others constantly feeling “stressed out”.
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “Police Scotland has continued to evolve and, as the report recognises, has already begun to address the issues raised in this report through the long-term strategy, Policing 2026.
“We remain committed to listening and working with all communities to improve the delivery of local policing across Scotland.”
Justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “This report provides more insights into how the early years of the reforms have been felt in local stations and communities. There is welcome recognition of achievements, including the continued provision of a highly-valued local service.”