The region’s police commander has been told there is a public perception that there are fewer police on Borders streets since the inception of a single Scottish force in 2013.
Councillor Sandy Aitchison made that assertion at last week’s meeting of the Police, Fire and Safer Communities Board in Newtown.
He was responding to an assurance from Chief Superintendent Gill Imery that the number of serving officers in her division, which now comprises Borders, Midlothian, West Lothian and East Lothian, had remained static at 914 since she took command a year ago.
“The number of officers in the Borders and in the division as a whole is the same and I have no intention of changing that,” said CS Imery.
“Police Scotland has changed the way it works, which means there are other demands on top of what officers did before.
“For example, we work differently with sex offences, domestic abuse, offender management and things like that.”
Looking on from the public benches on Friday was retired police officer Harry Scott from Galashiels, who failed last year in a bid to use Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation to discover details of local deployment.
Apart from being told there were “approximately 150 officers” serving in the Borders, detailed information was withheld by Police Scotland on the basis that it could compromise local policing operations and give comfort to criminals – a non-disclosure later upheld by the watchdog Scottish Information Commissioner.
Councillor Aitchison told CS Imery: “I am interested in the figures you have given, but I believe such headline figures can often disguise the true picture.
“There has been a vast reduction in civilian backroom staff which means there is now a lot more for each officer to do.
“The public perception is that we don’t see the same number of police on our streets and, if this is not the case, then Police Scotland needs to get that message across.”
Noting that Police Scotland will be expected to make further budget cuts of £60million in the coming financial year and that the Scottish Government has given a commitment to maintain officer numbers, Mr Aitchison added: “The police service should not be the political football it seems to be – it should be above all that.”
After the meeting, Mr Scott told The Southern his concerns that police coverage in the Borders had been diminished had not been assuaged by what he had heard.
“We were told the Borders has a 20 per cent share of deployment in the new, much larger division, which would indicate there are 180 officers here. This is at variance with what I was told in my FOI response. There is something wrong with the sums here.
“One of the functions of the board is to scrutinise local policing arrangements, but members were less than robust in this regard.
“They seemed to accept all they were told without asking any really searching questions.”