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Ten police stations across the Lothians are set to close to the public under a massive shake-up by new single force chiefs.
In Edinburgh, three police stations – Oxgangs, Balerno and South Queensferry – will close their public counters altogether, while two others – Craigmillar and Corstorphine – will transfer their operations to local community hubs.
Three more stations – Portobello, Howdenhall and West End – will have their opening hours cut.
Stations at Bonnyrigg, Tranent, Linlithgow, Armadale and West Calder will also close their front counters.
And across the Lothians, around 830 hours a week will be cut from station opening times.
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Police Scotland said the proposed changes follow a careful analysis of visits made to stations and reflect changes in the way people now contact the force, with many using e-mail, phone or even Twitter.
But concerns have been voiced that cost-cutting is the real driving force behind the changes, with crime victims, residents and politicians all uniting to slam the controversial changes.
Former policeman and MP for Edinburgh West Mike Crockart said: “If community policing is to mean anything then it needs to be accessible in those communities.”
And postman and serious crime victim Stuart Millan, 47, said: “I think it makes people feel safer to know that there is a station which is near your home and you can walk to.”
The current review affects only police station front counters, but a separate review – which could recommend closing and selling stations – is expected to report soon.
The Evening News today launches a campaign against the closures, calling on force chiefs to keep policing at the heart of communities.
Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale is backing the campaign. She said: “If you believe that’s the future for policing policy, these proposals drive a coach and horses through it. People should be able to walk into a police station and speak to a police officer.
“This is not about improving policing, it’s about saving money. It’s very sad.”
And she criticised the plan to close Craigmillar police station to the public and move officers to the hub.
“I’m absolutely behind joined-up services and the Craigmillar hub has a library, cafe and host of council services. It makes sense to have a police presence as part of that, but when you look at the figures they are telling us there were 1201 asks of the station assistant in two weeks – that’s a huge volume of demand.
“Do we want that same 1200 walking into the hub? Or does it suggest you should have a police presence at the hub and an active Craigmillar police station as well?
“Why should it be one or the other?
“Why can’t it be both?”
Corstorphine crime victim Mr Millan was left with a fractured skull and broken ankle, which forced him off work for five months, after being attacked outside The Oak pub in Corstorphine in July 2008.
He too has slammed the proposals, which he believes will further isolate crime victims from the people paid to be there to help them.
He said: “It’s disappointing that the station is to be closed. I think it makes people feel safer to know that there is a station which is near your home and you can walk to.
“People in Corstorphine will be upset by this decision. I’m sure that some still prefer to go into the station to speak to a police officer in person.
“It’s another example of services being moved out of a local community.”
In the rest of Lothian, Livingston will continue with a 24/7 public counter, but staffed by civilian employees rather than police officers.But Bonnyrigg, Linlithgow, Tranent, Armadale and West Calder will lose their public counters altogether. Dalkeith’s opening hours will increase slightly.
Haddington, Musselburgh and Bathgate will be cut back to 8am-6pm every day.
Penicuik, Broxburn and Whitburn will in future operate 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, the hours which will continue to apply at Dunbar and North Berwick.
However one policing expert said the service change makes sense – as most crimes are now reported by phone or e-mail and not in a station.
The former police chief, now retired, said: “There are fewer people going into police stations to report crimes, but there is more to a living police station than that.
“It’s an important interface with the community, especially growing, young communities like Queensferry and Balerno. The fear must be closure of the public counter is a prelude to closure altogether.”
He said from a statistical point of view, the proposed closures and cutbacks might be right, but from a community and human point of view it may be different.
“A police station with the lights on and the door open is altogether different from a darkened station with panda cars coming and going.”
The proposals are now subject to staff consultation and MSPs have been invited to comment by the end of the month.
Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi said he was seeking a meeting with police chiefs to discuss the plans. He said: “We live in difficult times and if these plans can be justified I’m open to persuasion but the public must be given confidence this is not just a cost-cutting exercise.”
Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the proposals are more evidence of the damaging impact of the centralisation of police services. She said: “It’s clear from Police Scotland’s own figures that hundreds of people each week value being able to walk into their local police station and speak over the counter to an officer. Communities as diverse as Oxgangs and Balerno are now facing the complete removal of this option, and the justification seems to be a very arbitrary list of what is and is not a core demand on this service.”
Edinburgh divisional commander Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, however, has insisted vital contact will not be lost and believes all people are seeing is a natural modernisation of the force.
He said: “Our research has suggested changes to opening times and a greater reliance on shared services will ensure front-line police officers can continue to provide a more effective and visible local policing service. Rest assured, our commitment to keeping people safe remains paramount.”
He said the public could contact the police via the non-emergency 101 number, mobile police offices, local community police surgeries and on the Twitter accounts used by officers across the Capital.
‘Not the right plan to serve city’s communities’
By Mike Crockart
TODAY Police Scotland published details of its Public Counter Service Review affecting Edinburgh’s E-Division. It does not make for enjoyable reading.
As a former police officer serving for eight years, I have my own ideas about what policing is about and my views on the future of our force should look like. Today’s review sets out a very different picture to the one which I want for Edinburgh communities.
There are 14 stations in Edinburgh, including the Police Information Centre, which provide a public counter service; of these five are left unaffected by today’s proposals which include the city centre stations at Gayfield Square and St Leonards. The review sets out a roadmap to a police force which is ill-placed to deal with local concerns and community priorities. In South Queensferry for example front desk opening hours are 9am-5pm Monday to Friday; under the new proposals there will be no public counter provision. This is echoed in Balerno and Oxgangs. In Corstorphine and Craigmillar the 7am-midnight seven days a week service will be lost entirely in favour of a shared service at the local Neighbourhood Offices.
The cuts amount to a staggering 598 hours per week. That’s 25 days of public-facing policing lost each week across the Capital. Police Scotland argues the front desk work in the stations where there are cuts does not constitute a ‘core demand’; I disagree. Is reporting a crime really an ‘ancillary demand’ in a police station? Is surrendering if there is a warrant out for you really not a core function? Not according to Police Scotland.
This smacks of massaging the figures to justify a preconceived closure plan. Our communities should be at the heart of policing; their needs and concerns are of paramount importance to the officers serving in that area. That is what policing is about and for many officers that is what makes them join.
• Mike Crockart is Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West and a former police officer.
Current opening hours: 7am until midnight, seven days per week. Proposal: 8am-6pm, seven days a week. Over a 14-day period, a total of 675 demands were made, but only 37 could be classed as core public counter functions – less than three people a day. Housebreakings rose by 54 per cent in Portobello/Craigmillar between 2010-11 and 2011-12, climbing from 56 to 86. Around 60 drunken youths fought on the promenade in July.
Opening hours: 7am until midnight, seven days per week. Proposal: transfer public counter to West Neighbourhood Hub.
Over an 11-day period there was 445 demands, 52 of them “core” – about five people per day. Officers in the Corstorphine/Murrayfield area dealt with ten serious assaults in 2011-12, up from three the previous year.
But housebreakings dropped by 31 per cent, from 67 to 46, over the same period.
Opening hours: 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Proposal: close. Over a ten-day period there was a total of 263 demands, but only seven classified as core functions – less than one person per day. The Pentland Hills ward, including Balerno, saw a 19 per cent rise in assault and robberies between 2010-11 and 2011-12, increasing from 86 to 102. Cases of vandalism fell in that period, from 1332 to 1229.
Opening hours: 7am until midnight, seven days a week. Proposal: close. Police say over a 14-day period there was a total of 427 demands made, but only 24 could be classified as core public counter functions, averaging less than two people per day. Housebreakings in Oxgangs doubled between last April to December against the same period last year.
Opening hours: 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. Proposal: close, but could have some seasonal staffing in summer. Over a five-day period there was a total of 176 demands, with just five of them classified as being “core”.
Police concluded: “The footfall analysis highlights that there is little public demand at this police station.”
The Almond ward, which includes South Queensferry, saw a rise in thefts from cars between 2010-11 and 2011-12, rising from 37 cases to 58.
But bike thefts and break-ins were both down over the year, by 38 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.
Opening hours: 7am until midnight, seven days a week. Proposal: 8am-6pm, seven days. Over ten days, a total of 498 demands, but only 22 core counter functions, about two people a day. Liberton/Gilmerton area had a 20 per cent rise in sexual crimes between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Opening hours: 7am until midnight, seven days per week. Proposal: 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. Over an 11-day period, 77 out of the 763 demands were “core” – seven people a day. It had the highest in 2011-12 for serious assault, with 106, and sex attacks, with 56.
Opening hours: 7am until midnight, seven days per week. Proposal: transfer public counter to South-East neighbourhood hub.
Over an 14-day period there was a total of 1201 demands, 39 of which were “core” – less than three people a day.
In June last year, it was revealed that the Portobello/Craigmillar area had seen 12 Asbos handed out since the orders were introduced, and Craigmillar continues to suffer from antisocial behaviour problems such as youths illegally off-roading on motorbikes.