Police accountability has become a hot topic after the recently centralised Scottish force was described as “an army of occupation”.
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson Graeme Pearson condemned the loss of local accountability in Scotland’s emergency services and described Police Scotland (PS) as a “family on the verge of breakdown”, during a Labour Party debate on February 26.
Mr Pearson warned, with Police Scotland’s “transparency all but eroded”, there was a danger of Police Scotland, “if not properly governed, becoming merely an army of occupation maintained at public expense”.
Labour’s justice spokesman also decried the “complete lack of consultation” over the loss of local services in order to cut costs which “smacks of crisis management” and had led to “a new low in morale” amongst the workforce.
This low morale mirrors “a widely felt discomfort” amongst local community councils according to Councillor Michael Cook.
“Many of the community councils I’ve spoken to in East Berwickshire are nonplussed by the move to generic ‘Police Scotland’ ward reports,” he said. “It seems as though what matters locally has given way to what matters nationally in terms of ‘branding’.
Councillor Cook pointed to the withdrawal of the Traffic Warden service from Berwickshire after a formal review in October.
“There are two problems which this approach reflects. Firstly, the engagement of PS with stakeholders including local government as a whole was so cursory as to be utterly inadequate. Secondly, the pre-emptory decision of PS has created a series of practical problems. Most glaringly, it has created a vacuum in enforcement. A number of authorities in Scotland have decriminalised parking. Where decriminalisation exists, the burden for parking enforcement shifts from Police to the local council.
“However, PS’s rush to conclude the matter has left gaps in around 20 local authorities where no such arrangements exist, and where to implement arrangements would take around two years, and be subject to a business case.
“As you can imagine, for councils like Scottish Borders, it is improbable that a business case could ever be made.
“PS assert they will still attend to breaches of parking regulations which are ‘dangerous or cause significant obstruction’.
“Not only is this vague, it is not for the Police to decide which offences they enforce and which they don’t.
“Along with traffic wardens, other decisions are beginning to crop up such as in respect of command centres, Police counters, speed cameras, which give the impression of high-handedness at the centre.”
But Councillor Cook defended those police officers at grass roots level.
“None of this is a criticism of local Police, who do an excellent job and are valued members of our communities,” he stressed.
“It is noteworthy that relations with local commanders are good.
“To a sceptical mind, the impression is one of engaged local commanders left to deal with the backwash of central command diktat.”
SBC Councillor Donald Moffat, meanwhile, feels that the centralised service has had no adverse effect on people’s confidence in the force.
“In the Scottish Borders we have an excellent relationship with Police Scotland,” he said, “ and it provides a highly effective service.”
He pointed to a ‘highly satisfactory’ rating awarded through the Police Fire and Safer Communities board, and added: “We have a far wider number of people involved through the council system.”