South of Scotland MSP Michelle Ballantyne (Conservative) has raised the vexed issue of police numbers in the Borders in the Scottish Parliament.
It follows comments by retired divisional police commander, Councillor Watson McAteer, who recently described police numbers in the region as “dangerously low” in a letter to Scottish justice minister Michael Matheson.
Mrs Ballantyne tabled a written question demanding to know what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to Mr McAteer’s claims.
Answering her question, Mr Matheson said: “Local decisions about the deployment of police officers are an operational matter for Police Scotland.
“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting Police Scotland. We are demonstrating that commitment by protecting the police resource budget in every year of the current Parliament and by committing £61million of reform funding in 2017-18.
“Across Scotland, officer numbers remain over 1,000 higher than in 2007.
A new Local Police Plan (LPP) for the Borders was presented to councillors at the last meeting of Scottish Borders Council, setting out Police Scotland’s commitment in J Division (Lothians and the Scottish Borders) to “work with partners” to tackle and reduce domestic abuse, including all aspects of sexual offences, violent crime, anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse, and acquisitive crime, including housebreaking and thefts and rural crime. The three-year plan also covers child protection and road safety.
Councillor McAteer told the meeting: “Councillors are constantly asked why there are not enough police officers to deal with offences reported by the public and why the police regularly do not attend crimes and incidents.
“We are quite correctly being asked to explain why those responsible for committing crimes are not being brought to justice.
“The Local Police Plan clearly states that the views of the public will be listened to, but this must be reflected in a meaningful way.
“While I have no problem with the aspirations of the plan and I accept that Police Scotland are realigning their services to deal with cyber crime and terrorism, the plan has some omissions which are important to the Borders.
“I would like it to reflect local statistics and to have meaningful performance information. It is not enough to say police performance will be monitored if the Borders public cannot see exactly how well the police are doing their job.
“As a local authority, we continue to lend our weight to support local policing, We have a common interest to ensure the Borders remains a safe and secure place.”
Superintendent Jim Royden, who is responsible for community liaison and performance in J Division, told the meeting that an extra nine officers, just qualifying from the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan, were destined for the Borders, taking him over his budgeted staffing establishment for the division.