Friday, October 18, 2013

Police Scotland; The first six months

                                         two guys putting the new sign up.
                                        just so they know who they are

Our new police service ( not allowed to call it a force anymore )'Police Scotland' has now been going for six months, after much hilarity about the date they chose to  merge the original regional 8 forces… April 1st.

  Under the leadership of Sir Stephen House, we have gone through the biggest change in policing for a generation. And I think the general opinion is, so far so good.

House is a local boy from Glasgow, brought up in an area usually considered pretty rough  but goes by the Disney type name Castlemilk. He went south, worked his way up the ranks in the Met ( the big London police force err service  oh whatever... the boys in blue). He came back to the Strathclyde Police Force in 2007 and Strathclyde basically covered the west side of the country with all its inner city problems. Some other regions were known to get excited by  this kind of thing...
                                                        Enough of the trendy earrings!

House's time at Strathclyde was marked by a serious decline in violent crime and this is now being shown country wide. Rape is now more commonly reported than robbery  (rape increased by 35%, robberies down by 25% ). This might be due more to recent high profile cases being prosecuted but who cares, woman are coming forward and feel more able to report abuse.
As part of his initiative, House is asking all Scotland’s 353 wards  just what the locals want from their policing. Focus on antisocial behaviour? Alcohol related violence and crime? Road safety? They seem to be the biggies.  But of course these issues are controlled by the community police and the part of the community police funding which is sourced from local councils, is under threat.
                                               House at HQ, courtesy of Daily Record 

House has his  challenges ahead. More than £60 million has  to be axed from this financial year and another £130 million from next year’s budget.  During his time at Strathclyde he was a costcutter, he reduced the number of senior officers and put more bobbies on the beat. Every rank was out in rotation to hit the street, very often on foot. So my pal, a very nice but fairly large female sergeant in her 50’s, would be expected to do a Mo Farrah marathon effort just to respond to a call.  The beat bobbies were seven miles away from their wheels. But the beat bobbies are exerting their power. There has been a huge increase in stop searches, over 300 000 of them in the first five months of this year.
That reminds me of an new initiative they came up with some years ago... the Fast Action Response Team. FART  for short.  
                         From STV news. Cars gained by criminal activity are seized and sold.

Further plans include a reduction in front desk opening hours and a cut to the number of front desks overall. The media don’t like the idea but as House correctly says, the sharp end of policing is at the end of the 999 line, not behind a desk in a high street office open to the public.  And the new police force does not need ten control rooms  as it is ONE police force

From a personal point of view I know there have been a few giggle moments… The new Police Scotland badge had to be sewn on to existing jumpers to create the ‘new’ uniform. So some lowly cop was wandering round police HQ in Pitt Street with a small sewing kit, stitch unpicker and thread at the ready, saying ‘you next’. The girls who look after the police horses for the mounted branch didn’t fare so well. Their  old badges were plastic and stuck on to their sweatshirt. They could not be steamed off or unpicked, so they just stand hand on heart  to look patriotic which hides the old badge ( which is probably covered in horsey dribble anyway).  My pal, a civilian who oversees the maintenance of buildings etc was writing cheques with fingers crossed as he had no idea who actually was going to cover them.

Very senior officers  who had previously had nice offices close to home were basically told to get their backsides into the central belt as it is now a national force..sorry service....and there can only be one HQ. That added another two hours onto some journeys to and from work.  Similarly, there was some talk of  centralising the mounted branch. Then it was pointed out that horses are not machines and they need sleep and rest  or they get very grumpy and uncooperative. They could not be expected to  travel to Inverness then stand around at a football game patrolling hooligans as Celtic take on Inverness Caly Thistle. Then travel back home, five hours each way travel plus the job in the middle. The horses protested with their hooves. It is a  rumour that one fell asleep at the match but so did most of the crowd so nobody noticed.

                         Is that horse awake? Picture taken by Jeff Zycinski outside BBC Scotland.

The Service has achieved a lot in a short space of time. They went over to look at the Dutch model as they considered the idea of an united force. Police Scotland has instigated it, completed it and now the Dutch are coming over here and saying did you manage that  so quickly?
It was not without pain but it was swift and all encompassing and it seems to be working.

From my own experience as a member of the Scottish Medico Legal Society, I know that they have put a huge amount of funding into proactive prevention. It will  always be difficult to show the benefits and evidence of preventing violence that might have happened.  Specialist rape investigation units and counter corruption units are getting more funding. Violent crime is reducing and  domestic abusers are being tracked. Some of them on the receiving end of the order of lifelong restriction before they have killed their spouse.

My other friend is a very respected criminal lawyer. My dog likes him. Most drug dealers in the west of Scotland adore him also.  He likes Police Scotland, he says the cops are even more useless than usual. He thinks that recruitment standards have fallen. But then it’s not the job it was. The ‘big pension’ is a thing of the past and  I think it’s fair to say that the average cop now works harder, for longer and House  has a reputation of cutting the massive budget for illness and long term sick. ‘You are either fit enough to do the job or not!’ said a serving officer.
                                                                       The public face.
But it is good to see that old rivalries are still going strong. I believe that  Edinburgh council grants licences to some “saunas”, they are like that in Edinburgh!!  One of the first operations by the united service was a series of raids on all 13 of those premises.  Quote from an MSP ‘It  was Police Scotland acting like the Met on a bad day!’  Some saw it as a Glasgow based service stamping its authority on Edinburgh councils for licencing such venues in the first place. I’m sure somebody used that fact for a novel…I think it was a crime novel, I think it was some chap called Mr Rankin.
                                    Sir Stephen House, a man with a mission.

Caro Scotland 18/10/13  

1 comment:

  1. I compliment you for many things in this piece, Caro, but most of all for restraining from captioning it..."It's House Cleaning Time."