More bobbies needed on beat in Borders, ex-police chief tells minister

Councillor Watson McAteer outside Hawick police station.
Councillor Watson McAteer outside Hawick police station.

Police numbers in the Borders are now “dangerously low”, according to a former divisional police commander for the force in the region.

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer, the new chairman of the Scottish Borders Council’s police, fire and rescue and safer communities board, makes that claim in a letter this week to Scottish Government justice minister Michael Matheson.

Mr McAteer says he is “sensing a growing frustration at what are being positioned as the new normal standards for policing in this area”.

“With crime figures reported to be either reducing or static and solvency rates steadily declining, a worrying trend is emerging,” writes Mr McAteer.

“Evidence of delayed response to 999 calls and officers being deployed to the Borders from central Scotland and vice versa, together with the very obvious lack of investigation are all contributing to a less than satisfactory service.

“From my regular engagement with front-line officers, it is obvious police numbers in Hawick and the Borders are at a dangerously low number.

“The most recent excuse that these gaps are being filled through the use of a flexible policing model is quite incredible and is simply a way of disguising the underlying problem.

“A disturbing feature is the lack of investigation time and the regular public comment that certain levels of crime, no matter how they impact at a local level, will only be taken forward if sufficient evidence is handed to the police on a plate.”

Mr McAteer tells Mr Matheson that call grading and handling procedures are at the root of public concerns about Police Scotland, the single force set up in 2013.

“This is an acute issue in rural areas, and the delay in attending emergency calls because too few officers are available is not acceptable,” he says.

“It is incumbent on me as an elected local authority member to raise the concerns of others and seek your intervention.”

While Mr McAteer awaits a response, he told us: “The board that I chair is part of the legislative framework to scrutinise local policing, but I’m yet to be convinced this translates into something which can truly influence change.

“I have told the justice minister that local authorities need to have a more influential role in police governance.

“As a first step, I would like to see local authority councillors represented on the Scottish Police Authority, which is there to hold Police Scotland to account.”