A DOZEN police officers who patrol local communities in the Capital are set to be lost under city council plans to slash funding.
The budget proposals have sparked fears among community groups and crime victims that there will now be fewer bobbies on the beat.
Councillors have moved to cut the £2.7 million local authority budget for community policing by £500,000, saying they no longer feel they have any influence over where the officers they fund work since the introduction of the national police force.
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, Edinburgh’s police commander, today confirmed that 12 officers would disappear from the 200-strong Community Policing Team, which targets issues such as antisocial behaviour, underage drinking and drug dealing.
But he strongly refuted the idea that there has been a drop in community policing under Police Scotland. He pledged that it remained the “cornerstone” of the force in Edinburgh, adding that efforts would be made over the next year to put more officers on street patrols.
Community leaders today raised fears about the impact of the proposed cuts in neighbourhoods across the city and some said they had seen less of their local officers in recent months. The 12 officers would be lost from April 2014 if the council’s budget plans go ahead.
Crime victims are among those concerned by the threatened cutbacks. In January, Gilmerton residents Andrew and Sarah McKirdy told how their lives were being made “a misery” by a gang of youths who pelted their home with stones, eggs and bottles, and hurled vile abuse at them.
Sarah McKirdy, 62, said: “I think it’s ridiculous that police numbers are being reduced. If there was more foot patrols then things would be better. We need more of that, not less.”
The city council is believed to be the first local authority in Scotland planning to cut extra funding for community policing, as city leaders are no longer satisfied that the entire £2.7m it provides is being used to the benefit of communities.
Instead, critics claim that a “Strathclyde-style” approach is being rolled out, with the emphasis on tactics such as stop and searches and units in response vehicles.
Chief Supt Williams said: “I understand that the council has to make cuts. We’ll have less officers for community policing, there is no getting away from that, but we’ll try to minimise the impact on front-line policing.
“I would refute that we are pulling away from community policing. Far from us pulling back, we are trying to do the exact opposite. Community policing is at the heart of Police Scotland. We’re looking at ways to enhance community policing across the city in partnership with the council.”
Betty Milton, chairman of the Sighthill/Broomhouse/Parkhead community council, said she was very worried about the prospect of cuts to community policing.
“If they were to cut community policing further, I think that would be absolutely tragic,” she said. “If you want to really tackle crime, you need to have strong links with the community. However, what I did notice is that we had no officers at our most recent meeting. We always had officers in attendance in the past.”
Andrew Cairns, a member of the Magdalene Neighbourhood Association, was more critical of the new regime.
He said: “Since Police Scotland took over, the absence of officers at community meetings has been very noticeable. At first when they stopped turning up we just thought it was because they were still coping with the transition, but as time went on and they never came back, it became apparent that was not the case. I can see why the council has decided to cut the funding – they are paying for a service they are not receiving. But in my opinion it would be a better idea to demand that they get what they paid for.”
But Jim Henry, chairman of the Liberton and District Community Council, said he had noticed no change in approach in recent months.
“We raised the issue of youths riding motorbikes in parks a couple of months ago and officers were out to deal with it. They even brought a police helicopter from Glasgow to help and the problem seems to have gone away,” he said.
Community-based officers have been active in targeting antisocial behaviour in Corstorphine, including underage drinking on Corstorphine Hill.
David Salton, chairman of the Corstorphine Community Council, said: “We haven’t noticed any drop-off in community policing since Police Scotland took over. However, if the proposal to remove £500,000 worth of funding does go ahead, we would find that extremely concerning.”
Giacomo Modica, chairman of the Craigentinny/Meadowbank Community Council, said: “We have a very good community policing team. I may not see them myself every day, but I know they are doing the rounds in the area.
“We need community police officers. It makes a huge difference having someone that you already know and trust.”
A history of success in the capital
COMMUNITY police officers funded by the local authority have been credited with a number of successes over the years.
Neighbourhood Action Units were created in 2008 to improve local policing and curb antisocial behaviour. A total of 84 council-funded officers in six teams replaced the Capital’s safer communities units and youth action teams.
Later that year, the units were praised for their role in a 21 per cent drop in police calls about nuisance youths.
The teams also patrolled at lunchtimes near schools, seized mini-motorbikes, and dispersed youths from Hunter Square and Bread Street.
In September 2010, the Neighbourhood Action Units were brought together with beat officers to work alongside council community safety teams as Safer Neighbourhood Teams. It saw the number of local officers on the beat boosted from 142 to 212.
They later spearheaded a drive aimed at tackling the city’s worst trouble hotspots.
The council-funded officers became part of the Community Policing Team with the formation of Police Scotland in April.