Outcry over division of new community police officers in Borders

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

A former Borders police chief has slammed the decision not to base any officers making up the region’s new community policing team in Hawick.

Watson McAteer, now a councillor for Hawick and Hermitage, says that the new team of a sergeant and six officers, due to be officially unveiled next week, is not being distributed fairly.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of Hawick Community Council, Mr McAteer, also honorary provost for the town, told members: “From April 1, you have all contributed over £280,000 for a sergeant and officers in a community action team who will focus on everything that’s got a local side to it.

“Today, I got notice about where they will be based. The sergeant is based in Gala and will move between there and council HQ at Newtown, and at the moment it looks like there will be two officers in Duns, two in Selkirk and two in Gala.”

Mr McAteer, chairman of Scottish Borders Council’s police, fire and rescue and safer communities board, said he was surprised that the division of staff appears not to include Hawick.

“I can’t believe that that is the right distribution,” he said. “Hawick is the biggest town in the Borders with some of the biggest problems, but with no police on the doorstep.

“It’s early days, but that is an initial concern I have. I’m very surprised that Hawick has been overlooked, and I’m very worried about what that will mean.”

Mr McAteer added that it was a police matter, but he promised it was something he would challenge.

However, Inspector Tony Hodges, deputy local area commander for the Borders, insists that where the officers are based is not important.

He said: “The new community policing team will base themselves at stations from the three separate policing areas in the region.

“However, it is not important where they are located, as their remit is to police all community matters affecting the Borders.

“Rest assured, this team are a Scottish Borders resource and will be utilised in whichever community they are required.”

The community policing team has been formed after Scottish Borders Council pledged £282m earlier this year in a bid to try to tackle issues important to communities.

Though they are employed by Police Scotland, officers will focus on issues of concern identified by local people.

The team’s remit is to prevent low-level crime, as well as dealing with specific community concerns, such as bad parking, anti-social behaviour and dog fouling.

Explaining the premise back in February when the budget was set, council leader Shona Haslam said: “People told me that they want the council to start tackling anti-social behaviour.

“Police Scotland is a failed experiment. We want to bring back community policing.

“In this budget, we are committing £282,000 to deliver six officers and a sergeant that will be locally tasked to do community policing in our towns. They will soon become well-kent faces in our communities and will soon get to know the well-kent faces in our towns.”

A council spokesperson said this week: “While the community action team will report to these stations at the start of their shifts, they will be deployed across the Borders to address local community and quality-of-life issues.”