Police numbers ‘spread thin’ says ex-chief after disclosure probe

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Fears about levels of police cover in the Borders have been raised this week after a former officer from Galashiels failed to uncover details of local deployment.

Harry Scott, who retired in 1999 after 30 years’ service, used Freedom of Information legislation in a bid to get answers from Police Scotland, the centralised single force formed in April last year.

At the end of March, Mr Scott formally enquired about the number and rank of officers employed in the region – the former G division of Lothian and Borders Police – in 14 shifts over a specified seven-week period.

He wanted to know the number of uniformed response officers based at local stations, along with community beat and road police officers who were working in the area over that period.

But in May, Police Scotland claimed this information was exempt under the legislation and could not be revealed because disclosure “would or would be likely to prejudice substantially the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders”.

Believing there was public interest in disclosure and not accepting that historical information could cause substantial prejudice, Mr Scott persisted and asked Police Scotland to review the decision.

In June, he was informed there were “approximately 150” officers stationed in the Borders, but Police Scotland maintained its position of non-disclosure, prompting Mr Scott to take his case to the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) Rosemary Agnew, who agreed to investigate.

Now, after a three-month probe, the watchdog has concluded that Police Scotland was justified in withholding the information from Mr Scott.

Former divisional commander Watson McAteer, now an Independent member of Scottish Borders Council, said he was “not surprised” at the decision to withhold historical data.

“The levels on duty are likely to be very small and I have heard a number of officers discussing being sent to other divisions in the force at short notice,” said Mr McAteer.

“As much as I understand Police Scotland’s argument in this case, I hope the lack of response does not in itself reveal a worrying story about the actual numbers of officers available and policing in the Borders at any given time.

“There is no doubt the numbers are spread thin and providing support to neighbouring divisions and other parts of Scotland cannot be a sustainable policing model if the Borders is to continue to enjoy its reputation as a safe place to live and work.”