Command and control
If Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen is feeling under any pressure, he is doing a good job of hiding it. In less than 24 hours, the Queen’s Baton will return to Scotland, beginning its 40-day tour of the host country ahead of this summer’s Commonwealth Games.
As the commander in charge of safety and security around the showpiece event, the last 18 months of his career have been building to this point. But that’s true not just for him, however.
Almost three dozen Police Scotland officers drawn from across the country are taking shifts accompanying the baton on foot around all 32 local authorities, running up to 14 miles and assisting over 100 batonbearers in the space of a single day.
“Alongside doing their day jobs over the last few months [they] have been through an intensive training programme, both in terms of their physical fitness, because they’ll be running alongside the baton, but also in terms of the slightly different policing challenges that they’ll face as they run alongside the baton, not least of which is the fact they’ll not be in uniform,” explains Allen.
“They’ll be in t-shirts and running gear so that means they won’t have immediately available to them all the protective equipment a police officer would normally carry and they won’t be wearing body armour, so we’ve put them through a specific training programme in order to equip them with the skills that they’ll need to keep the baton safe.”
Jokingly, the former DCC at Lothian and Borders admits to being tempted to apply himself. Given the First Minister took the unusual step of asking Chief Constable Sir Stephen House to accept responsibility for the broader safety and security operation around the Games, taking time out was never going to be an option. Still, sitting in his ground floor office at Tulliallan, with little more than a month left till the opening ceremony at Celtic Park, Allen seems at ease.
Preparations are “well advanced and on track” with 17 private companies now in place to provide security and stewarding, more than 2,000 military personnel drafted in, and 60-odd staff – as well as sniffer dogs – from the Scottish Prison Service promised. This, of course, on top of the thousands of police officers poised to be involved. A number of officers will be drafted in from elsewhere in the UK, albeit to provide specialist support such as firearms and venue searches rather than contribute to visible patrol activity.
It is undoubtedly a mammoth operation that spans not only Glasgow but Edinburgh and Dundee where events are to be held too during the 11-day showpiece. Ministers recognised as much in the months that followed the Olympics. The chaos that unfolded in the weeks leading up to London, which saw the military drafted in at the 11th hour, helped convince government of the need to treble the security budget from £27.2m to £90m.
“There is a huge amount of scrutiny on the budget, quite rightly, because it’s a huge amount of public money,” admits Allen. “As it stands at the moment, I remain confident that we’ll deliver within the budget.”
The planning process has been subject to numerous reviews over the last 18 months, including peer reviews by colleagues from other parts of the UK, two gateway reviews, and regular oversight by the Commonwealth Games Federation.
Allen is not the only one under scrutiny. The events of two years ago, which saw security contractor G4S fail to deliver the 10,400 security guards promised for London 2012, served to underline the consequences of relying on a single company to come good.
“We’ve lived very publicly our procurement journey around the private contract workforce,” says Allen. “It took 18 months to get us to where we wanted to be. With the benefit of hindsight, we’d have 18 months ago gone to the market with the framework arrangements that we’ve ended up with. We didn’t. But what we did [do] was learn the lessons and put the right approach in place in time to still deliver the Games.
“[London] certainly changed the marketplace, it certainly changed people’s appetite for risk. Although, I have to say even going back 18 months ago, we thought that we’d addressed that by dividing the work up into a number of lots where we group venues together but didn’t go to the market for one contractor. That proved not to be a workable solution. We have ended up with the arrangements we have now which absolutely give me a high degree of confidence.”
Allen prefers to use the language of ‘support’ rather than ‘scrutiny’ when it comes to Police Scotland’s relationship with private partners. Individuals within the DCC’s team are aligned to each of the companies so that any problems are identified and shared as early as possible.
“Each of the companies, as part of their contractual arrangements, are supplying us on a weekly, almost daily basis in some cases, [a] set of numbers about how many people they have recruited, trained, got accredited and rostered in to perform duties. We’ve got probably a better picture of the workforce position than has ever been available before in an event like this.”
Does that ‘almost daily’ flow of information apply to G4S, which is providing safety stewarding at two venues that they routinely work at? “It applies to all of the companies,” adds Allen. “In terms of our contact with the companies, rather than waiting for meetings to come round it’s a very active day-by-day relationship. G4S are in the same boat as everyone else.”
London’s failure did, in one respect, give way to another success story, however. Lord Coe described the military’s contribution as “one of the defining features” of the Games with some 18,200 army, navy and Royal Air Force personnel making up half of the security manpower.
“We have said from the outset, really, that we wanted the workforce to be an integrated team that reflects the best of both the public and the private sector in Scotland and the UK,” says Allen. “Military demonstrated at the Olympics that they are good at this, the public like them, and we want to recreate some of that atmosphere here by using military colleagues alongside police officers and colleagues from the private sector.
“They’ll be predominately performing roles in contact with the public so when the public turn up at some of the venues where the military are deployed and they go through the search process to get into the venue, it will be military personnel who will be conducting those searches.”
Arriving at the security perimeter of one of the main venues, members of the public can expect an airport-style search, with their bags passed through x-ray machines and a search arch for them to go through.
Spectators should also prepare to see armed officers; an issue that has attracted a high level of controversy in the broader context of everyday policing after it emerged a decision had been taken, under Police Scotland, to mirror certain legacy force arrangements and allow a number of trained armed response vehicle officers to routinely carry hand guns.
“Police Scotland hasn’t specifically trained additional armed officers to meet the demands of the Games, although the demands will increase over the period of the Games,” Allen tells Holyrood.
“We will be using some support from forces elsewhere in the United Kingdom, specialist armed officers coming up to be part of the Games operation. They are an integral part of the operation, particularly when you consider that at its most serious end the threats and risks that the security operation is trying to mitigate include the threats and risks from terrorism. So, it is inevitable that there will be some armed capability available to me as the commander.”
Some will have a “visible presence”, particularly at the major venues, confirms Allen, though their main deployment will be a reserve capability for Allen and other commanders to call on in the event that they are needed. Moving from one bone of contention to a potential other, the conversation turns to topping up of the special constabulary, a part-time volunteer body consisting of officers with similar powers to that of regular officers.
A recruitment campaign designed to boost the number of special constables by almost half kicked off last year. It was, Allen told Holyrood last October, not about recruiting people for the Commonwealth Games; rather, involvement in the multi-sport event was held up as an opportunity should candidates apply.
That, however, did not prevent the headline, ‘Games security in disarray’ appearing on one national newspaper’s front page earlier this year amid reports that their recruitment effort had hit a roadblock. “To make a direct link between the Commonwealth Games and the recruiting campaign is just not right,” says Allen. “It was a recruiting campaign for specials. Life goes on and, as I say, my focus was, ‘let’s use as many specials as we can in the Commonwealth Games’, which is what we’ll do.”
In excess of 2,000 separate tours of duty will be conducted by specials as part of the Games. As it stands, the special constabulary numbers 1,315 across Scotland, some way short of the “aspirational target” of reaching 2,014 specials.
“There are a whole number of reasons why that never happened, not least of which was in between starting the campaign and when people started counting the numbers, Police Scotland had shifted very much more into a policy that we recruited our regular officers from the special constabulary, so the number coming out of the special constabulary was much higher. Therefore, it was always going to be a real challenge to recruit at a rate that was going to get us up to the 2,000 officers.”
Asked if Police Scotland will be left short-handed as a result, Allen insists “far from it”. More than 200 specials have committed to deployment in Games-related roles.
The debacle over the demolition of the Red Road flats as part of the Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony has demonstrated the heightened potential for protests during the Games. An online petition against the plan to bring down five of the blocks as part of the showpiece attracted in excess of 17,000 signatures and led Allen to call on organisers to reconsider the plan. The environment had changed to such an extent that the scale of operation required to guarantee a level of safety and security became “entirely disproportionate” for the sake of a few seconds of an opening ceremony, he says.
“Based on the experience of the Olympics, I would be very surprised if there are not some people who want to take advantage of this global event to make a point,” he adds. “They’ve every right to do so; the right to protest and freedom of speech are some of the things we hold most dear and our job as the police is to protect and enable people to live out their rights.
“It would be naïve not to expect some of that kind of activity, we are ready for it. My message to people who want to conduct protest activity in and around the Games is come and speak to us so that we can work together to enable you to meet your needs and get your point across but at the same time, enable us to keep people safe and minimise disruption to the Games.”
Between now and Games-time, some training and rostering for the private contract workforce as well as residual training for police officers is still to be carried out. The schedule for building the security overlay for venues hosting events will take Allen and colleagues up until a week before the Games get under way. Now that detail of the likely disruption local residents in and around the city are likely to face has crystallised, time spent in local communities affected is being stepped up by police, together with partners in Glasgow City Council as well as the Glasgow 2014 organising committee.
Having attended the first in a series of engagement events myself back in March, the frustration of some local residents was palpable. “Whilst we have been talking for a number of months about security fences going up and the way that things all look and feel, I don’t actually think until you see, physically, where the fence is going to be, what it is going to look like, I think it’s at that point that people have started really to understand the impact when they’ve seen that they’re not going to be able to park their car in the usual place and some of those very individual impacts,” says Allen.
“I completely understand why that might be irritating for people or cause them inconvenience but our whole effort alongside Glasgow and the organising committee is to identify those individual requirements.” By the time the Games come around, police officers will have called on over 1,800 individual residencies to ascertain those requirements, from parking right through to access to social services or community care, he adds.
“We have done everything in our power to shrink the security apparatus and to minimise the impact on people’s lives, but where it has an impact, I am afraid it is unavoidable.”