Plans to cut police numbers a ‘time bomb’, according to Scottish Police Federation’s Calum Steele
The general secretary of the SPF has hit out at plans to reduce Police Scotland officers by 400, announced at the launch of the Policing 2026 strategy yesterday
Calum Steele, General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation - Image credit: Scottish Police Federation
Plans to cut police officer numbers are a “time bomb” according the Scottish Police Federation (SPF)’s Calum Steele.
The SPF general secretary called plans to reduce the number of officers while demand continues to rise “madness”.
The comments come in response to the launch of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Association (SPA)’s joint 10-year-plan yesterday.
At the launch, it was revealed that officer numbers would remain at the same level in 2017/18, but recruitment would then be reduced and officer numbers drop by around 400.
The plans include more use of technology for efficiency, as well sure ensuring that officers are engaged in frontline duties rather than doing back office work – a criticism that has been levelled at the SNP’s commitment over the last nine years to retain a fixed number of officers.
Steele said that “Any initiative to strip police officers from corporate functions is welcome. But let's not pretend this will result in more police on beat.
“Even if at best estimate 300-400 are returned, this will simply replace the 400 drop in recruiting over next few years.”
A commitment to keeping officer numbers at 1,000 above 2007 levels, making 17,234 officers in total, had been an SNP government commitment since 2007, but was dropped last year from the SNP manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, with Justice Secretary Michael Matheson citing increased flexibility for the force adapt to the changing nature of crime.
Steele said: “In 2007, the SNP recognised police demand was at such levels that 1,000 extra officers weren't just desirable but were essential.
“Ten years on police demand has continued to rise and officers are struggling to deliver all that's asked of them.
“There is not one scrap of evidence to suggest the levels of 2007 demand on policing – that needed 1,000 extra police officers – has reduced to allow a 40 per cent reduction of the 1,000.
“So, what we have is a stretched police service looking to create capacity in order to reduce numbers by more than the capacity created.”
He continued: “Given there is a tacit acceptance demand will continue to rise – a de facto position of fewer officers dealing with that demand is madness.
“Of course, the devil will always be in the detail but experience shows that the service is remarkably creative at defining front line officers.
“In truth, ‘frontline’ is always misleading, as many officers who are never seen are doing some exceptionally difficult jobs and are essential.”
Steele said that while pressure exists in many areas, response policing is “really under the cosh,” mentioning “ludicrous working hours and demand” and officers starting shifts with “dozens of jobs outstanding”.
He continued: “If the police service is honest enough to quantify its response capacity and actually demonstrate 300-400 police officers going to response and not some woolly ‘frontline’ roles, then removal from corporate [roles] can make a tangible difference – however, you can't reduce the numbers until such time as this actually happens.
“First, you need to create the capacity. Reducing the number of workers before capacity created is a time bomb – and the public will suffer.”
Steele also said that Scottish police IT and infrastructure is in a “catastrophic state of repair”, predicting fewer officers spending longer on “decrepit IT” in three years’ time.
It would need “massive investment” to deliver transformational change and create more capacity, he said.
Chief Constable of Police Scotland Phil Gormley stated at the launch of the Policing 2026 strategy yesterday that the intention was to recruit more specialist staff with, for example, specialist cyber skills.
He said: “The emphasis will be on growing the productive hours our policing services provide in different communities, and working more effectively with partners and the public to reduce crime and improve outcomes.
“This will be driven through better use of technology, more effective deployment and releasing officers from the back office and corporate roles.
“We will recruit more specialist staff, for example with analytical and cyber expertise, to further increase operational effect.
“These roles will not require warrant cards but will be a critical part of Police Scotland’s operational mission to protect the people of Scotland.”
He added: “Clearly, we will continue to recruit police officers in sizeable numbers.
“There is a continuing requirement to ensure appropriate coverage across geographical areas as officers retire, and to continue the drive to increase the diversity of the workforce so it more closely aligns to the profile of Scotland.
“There will be no change to the number of police officers next year, but as operational productivity increases we will reduce the levels of recruitment over 2018-20.”
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