A former Borders police chief says there is an urgent need for a fundamental review of how policing can deliver what the Scottish public needs and expects.
And Hawick and Denholm councillor Watson McAteer claims Borderers will not be surprised at this week’s revelation that police officer numbers in Scotland have fallen to their lowest level since 2010.
“This has been a painfully obvious experience for our residents who have struggled to have their calls answered or have been lucky enough to have an officer eventually turn up to deal with a problem,” said Mr McAteer.
He was reacting to statistics released by the Scottish Government which show that, between April and June this year, there were 17,242 full-time equivalent police officers in Scotland – the lowest number since the last quarter of 2010 when the total was 17,217.
The new figures, however, confirm that numbers have gone up by 1,008 since 2007 when the SNP came to power at Holyrood.
Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety, said crime in Scotland is at a 41-year low, adding: “The reduction in crime levels is supported by continued high numbers of police in Scotland’s communities and
I’m pleased to note numbers remain well in excess of those in 2007.”
Mr McAteer, who was head of CID and divisional commander for Lothian and Borders before his retiral in 2004, is far from convinced.
“We can only speculate how many of the extra 1,000 officers [since 2007] have been removed from frontline duties to fill the massive gap resulting from the ‘voluntary pay-offs’ of civilian support staff, while levels of sickness absence are reported to be at an all time high,” he told The Southern.
“It is also impossible to gauge how many crimes are simply not being reported and what impact the ever-escalating scale of cyber crime is having on each and every one of us.
“Combine all this with a Police Scotland strategy that refuses to provide crime and incident statistics at a local ward level and there is real concern that the collaborative police approach we have come to expect is lost.
“The worst possible outcome of the current strategy is a growing lack of public confidence and respect.
“The officers who are left holding the fort are trying their best, but are being let down by those who hold the purse strings and power. I believe there is an urgent need for a fundamental review of how policing in Scotland is to deliver what the public needs and expects.”
In June, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation on its strategic priorities for Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority with a closing date of August 16 for responses.
“That process will be less than effective if there is a lack of credible financial support for what many regard as an ailing force,” stated Mr McAteer.
Meanwhile, Mr McAteer and his fellow ward councillor Stuart Marshall are due to meet Chief Superintendent Ivor Marshall, the Dalkeith-based new commander of the Lothians and Borders division, on August 22 to discuss a range of issues, including public opening hours at Borders police stations and plans to cut the number of senior-rank officers across the division.