LOCAL accountability and maintained levels of police officer were two of the main issues of concern last week when councillors met senior police officers to discuss looming reforms and the performance of local officers in the Borders.
Steve Allen, Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, and Chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair, commander of G Division in the Borders, both addressed the meeting of the full Scottish Borders Council.
The council’s official response to the Government consultation paper on the reforms, including a single unifed police force, was amended after councillors voted 24-6 to back a motion calling on the new Scottish Police Authority to comprise 32 elected councillors instead of 11 appointed positions.
A single Scottish police service could be in operation in about 18 months’ time.
Mr Sinclair said the Borders, which had seen a 10% decrease in reported crime over the last year, already enjoyed the lowest crime rate in the area covered by the Lothian & Borders force.
“This decline also means there are fewer victims of crime and less disturbance to people’s lives,” he said. “Our priorities are to reduce the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol; to tackle antisocial behaviour; to reduce the number of road fatalities and casualties; to protect the most vulnerable adults and children in our society.
“Our performance is good but not as good as it can be. The Borders is a relatively peaceful place.
“The aim is to maintain officer numbers, rather than front counters,” he said, addressing concerns over reductions in opening hours at some stations in the region.
Councillors raised concerns that a single force for Scotland could see resources sucked away from the Borders and national priorities set, such as knife crime initiatives, which had little relevance to local priorities.There were also worries over the visibility of police officers out on patrol if there were cutbacks.
Mr Allen moved to allay fears over the setting of local policing priorities being overridden by national ones set outwith the Borders.
“I have to say, I can’t, in all my years in the force, ever remember a time which saw the centre set priorities that were at odds with local priorities.”
Mr Sinclair answered the questions on visibility and delivery of service to local communities. “Most important to me is visibility and delivery.
“My grandfather was in the police and my father was in the police. and I grew up with a traditional view of what policing should be about. We do have mobile police contact vehicles. A lot of Berwickshire has small places and it is a good idea to use them, but we also need to think about other ways of increasing visibility.”
And one way the police are looking at raising visibility is the possible introduction of bicycles for officers, and they have floated the idea recently with Berwickshire community councils, at the same time asking communities for a financial contribution to the proposed scheme.
Mr Allen said the Government was committed to maintaining the total number of Scottish officers at its current level of 17,234.
Mr Sinclair said: “There are now 236 officers in the Borders deployed over a huge area. We design shifts so that we can deploy the majority of our officers on Friday and Saturday nights, which are the busiest times.
“But if you lift someone in Eyemouth and have to transport them to Hawick, those officers are then off the streets for nearly the whole of their shift.
“The idea that there are cops sitting in back rooms just drinking coffee just doesn’t happen.”