THERE are more police officers in the Borders than there were when the three stations, due to be sold off in West Linton, Innerleithen and Newcastleton, were last staffed, according to Superintendent Andrew Allan.
The deputy divisional commander for the region was responding this week to a claim from Brian McCrow, chairman of Tweeddale’s Community Safety Panel and vice-chairman of Innerleithen, Traquair and Glen Community Council, that, while the station disposals were “disturbing in themselves”, the real issue was that there were not enough officers to man them.
“We have been promised no reduction in front-line policing, but reductions are happening as budgets are being cut,” said Mr McCrow.
He claimed: “The Tweeddale area is being hit in particular as police officers are diverted to the larger towns such as Galashiels.
“Unfortunately this can only lead to more opportunistic crime such as the recent quad bike thefts and more domestic break-ins over the festive period.
“A single police force will only exacerbate these problems as the Central Belt will demand more resources.”
That is a reference to the legislative proposal by the Scottish Government to replace the existing structure of eight constabularies, including Lothian and Borders, with a single force over the next three years.
First Minister Alex Salmond says the move is “the only way to maintain the numbers of officers in every community right across Scotland”.
How the creation of the single force (and a single fire and rescue service) will work in practice has, as part of the legislation, been subject to a consultation paper, the deadline for which passed yesterday.
Scottish Borders Council has demanded no cuts to front-line policing in the new set-up and urged “a distinct and identifiable local command structure…staffing establishment and budget” in what is currently the Borders division.
Notwithstanding the creation of a single force, Lothian and Borders Police Board, on which SBC has two representatives – Tory councillors Gavin Logan and Trevor Jones – will meet in Haddington on November 14 to discuss the station closure plans as the force seeks to cut its budget by 5 per cent in 2011/12 and again in 2012/13.
At present, 96 per cent of the £11.5million police budget in the Borders goes on staff and that focus on frontline policing will continue, said Superintendent Allan, who will oversee the transition at a local level.
“Although there are never any guarantees in this world, the reality is that the last time I was in the Borders [as a chief inspector from 2003 to 2005] we had 223 officers from constables to a chief superintendent,” he told us.
He went on: “We now have 236 officers, including three local integration officers, funded by SBC, which we have matched with a further three.
And part of the increased staffing establishment is the effect of additional officers we have received from the Scottish Governments ‘extra 1,000 officers’ policy.
“We did, for a while, have more than 236 officers, but we now have access to a range of central services. This includes support from specialists such as underwater search, which has come from other forces for many years, to assistance with major crime incidents.”
Superintendent Allan cited the investigation into the murder last month of 39-year-old Lithuanian Arunus Ramanauskas at a farm near Peebles, with which a 22-year-old woman has since been charged.
He said: “In that case, we were helped by an expert team only recently established by the force to assist with major incidents and we also have access to officers from other parts of the force area specialising in organised crime.
“So although these officers are not actually based in the Borders, they are here, very much on the front line, whenever they are required.
“I would like to remind Mr McCrow that the primary function of all our officers is not to man police stations, but to deliver the service the public needs, whether by patrolling to deter crime or responding to calls from the public.”
Meanwhile, Councillor Logan said that if the board agreed on the permanent closure and disposal of the three police stations on Monday week, he would be pressing fellow members to ensure that the cash receipts from the sales will be invested in policing in the Borders.