Edinburgh police chief vows community cops won’t plug gaps

The city council contributes �2.6m a year to pay for community officers. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The city council contributes �2.6m a year to pay for community officers. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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EDINBURGH’S top policeman has promised that council-funded community officers will not be used to plug gaps caused by cuts.

Chief Superintendent Kenny McDonald said the officers paid for by the council were extra personnel on top of the number financed by Police Scotland itself and that was how it would stay.

He spoke after politicians called for assurances that the council’s £2.6 million a year contribution would not just be used to top up the force’s budget.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) has claimed Scottish Government cuts have seen the number of officers in Edinburgh reduced from 70 per shift to just 38 over the past five years.

Edinburgh South Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “The money the city gives to the police force has to be for additional officers. It cannot be to shore up deficiencies in core funding from the SNP Scottish Government.”

And Green councillor Melanie Main said: “Council-funded community police officers are there to do a specific job, to provide a consistent contact point for residents and community groups and to carry out a lot of the prevention work that avoids crime and anti-social behaviour.

“It would be a great concern if community officers get dragged into plugging gaps left because core police numbers have come down.”

The council cash pays for two officers per ward plus a team of seven in the city centre.

Chief Supt McDonald took issue with the SPF figures. “They have been selective in the numbers they have chosen,” he said.

And he pointed out the latest statistics showed the total number of officers in Edinburgh had decreased by just three.

He said: “I would reassure the public of Edinburgh the additional funding from the city council pays for additional police officers for the city. That currently funds named community police officers and it will continue to fund named community police officers.”

Police Scotland is facing a £21 million shortfall in running costs this year, despite an £18m budget boost from the Scottish Government for 2016/17.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has denied the force was in crisis and insisted officer numbers were expected to be maintained at current levels despite reports of more cuts to come.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com