Scottish Police Federation says public are being misled over policing cuts

Written by Calum Steele on 21 July 2016 in Comment

Scottish Police Federation general secretary says the police service is being "strangled of the very capability to do what the public expects"

Police Scotland - photo credit: Police Scotland by Ian Britton

The Police Service of Scotland (PSoS) is in such dire financial straits that it is sending officers to charity shops to source equipment that you could pick up for a couple of pounds in most supermarkets. That is but one of the ridiculous yet brutal realities of a lack of funding for what is the first and last emergency service; the only service that’s called when others either can’t be contacted or say no; and the only service that can’t say no.

Officers dealing with a child rightly sought to go some way to protect the child from needless intrusion by seeking the purchase of car sun blinds to help screen them from public view whilst making a necessary journey in a police car. Any one of us who has children know these can readily be bought for a couple of pounds but the officers were sent to scour charity shops to see if they could source them cheaper.

Dogs handlers (those we have left) following trails are being told to stop as they approach the end of their shift (lest they incur overtime) and other dog handlers are simply dispatched to pick up from where they left off.


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General and criminal inquiries are passed from officer to officer to officer, grossly diminishing the care for victims and increasing the likelihood of mistakes being made, evidence being lost and greater costs and abstractions should the issue subsequently progress to court.

Rural communities are seeing their police services diminished and access is very much a post code and bank account lottery. Let us not kid on that decisions to send policing responses are firstly judged on need when a budget built on cuts needs to be balanced.

Ranks are being stripped out and responsibilities are being pushed down without any evaluation of the impact of doing so on either the police service itself or the communities it is expected to serve.

Cash is king and woe betide anyone who isn’t playing their part in making cuts. Theorising on paper that the service will be improved but cutting is a fool’s errand and the public is being misled over the policing realities of today. At a time when so much emphasis is being place on the cost of policing, it’s long overdue that we had a real conversation about its value.

The police service and police officers operate in an imperfect world. We see and deal with the consequences of the most depraved aspects of human behaviour as well as the after effects of a nation whose love of alcohol appears to show no limits. Violence, injury, death, devastation and sadness are all part and parcel of the issues facing policing and that’s before you even begin to touch on the preventative agenda that makes a difference in ways almost impossible to measure and the justifiable expectations of the public that the police will be there, visible, to provide reassurance when they demand it.

Imagine therefore a police service that is being strangled of the very capability to do what the public expects and what police officers know needs done, and you are now imagining the PSoS today, here and now.

The PSoS deals with over 10,000 calls each day; nearly four million calls a year. That’s more calls for service than there are children in our schools and patients in our hospitals -combined. A few short weeks ago, during the exceptional good weather, Scotland had 10 murders in a 14 day period. In the same period its call demand far exceeded anything that it had ever experienced before and made the traditional high demand of Hogmanay seem like a quite Sunday morning.

I have heard it said that the pressures on the police budget are no more or no less than anywhere else in the public sector and respectfully suggest that is poppycock. I have no doubt that the hospitals were also busy during the good weather but unlike other services – the police go to the public. I have also yet to hear of a hospital that is expected to treat the dead but police still investigate those no longer able to be questioned about their crimes.

No one really cares if the firefighter coming to put out a fire has a rapport and trust with the person whose house is ablaze but by god they care about knowing and trusting the police officers in their communities – that can only be achieved by being there and not just when something happens. Has anyone ever looked at the mass deployment of police officers to communities AFTER something horrific occurs and wondered why they couldn’t have been there before?

Senior officers, the Scottish Police Authority and Government are happily kidding the public on that everything in the garden is rosy but even the most superficial scratching of the surface reveals a completely different picture. In amongst all the language of “capital – revenue – reform – sustainability” the real impact of what the service is facing is missing. Most member of the public have no interest in language that is designed and intended to obfuscate from the real issues. They care about what it means for them. No one has asked the public if they know what is meant by a sustainable police service. It’s one of those phrases that’s casually thrown about without anyone asking – so what does that mean? – sustainable from whose point of view?

No doubt many of those who will be asked to comment on this piece will trot out lines about difficult decisions and hard conversations but who with? We will hear about generalities and not specifics and this is wrong. Local concerns will get lost and diminished in a world of corporate speak and that suits only the suits.

The Scottish Government consultation on police priorities will not be seen by a huge swathe of our population. Many of those who we police can’t afford to eat, let alone afford the luxury of wi-fi or the time to respond. Who is speaking to them? Who is garnering their views?

I am in no doubt that but for the creation of the Police Service of Scotland, policing would be in an even weaker position than it currently is. That however is not good enough. We should not accept a service that is barely able to cope and already planning to provide less. Telling the public they need different priorities is not the same as dealing with their priorities.

The service has superficially restructured but needs real money to be able to fix the many failures of the past and become one true national police service delivering for all our communities in Scotland. Treating pubic expectation and demand as an inconvenience to a budget balancing exercise (which in any event is an impossible ask) is no way to deliver that. The public deserve better than a police service scrambling about in charity shops and treating victims of crime like unwanted wedding presents to be passed on and on and its long overdue that we acknowledge that and did something about it. 

Calum Steele is general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation

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