Alex Cole-Hamilton: Time for a reform of police

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I’m just going to come out and say this: Police Scotland isn’t working. The SNP’s flagship centralisation project has seen a roll-back of community policing and the imposition of Strathclyde tactics for Edinburgh problems. It’s left people in the Capital feeling unsafe and more exposed to crime than before the merger.

So I say it’s time to give autonomy and accountability back to regional commanders and allow local councils a say in policing priorities.

Chances are you or someone known to you locally will have suffered a break-in this summer. Local bobbies tell me that this is not because there are more criminals in Edinburgh, it’s that they have been told to pull back from local policing and focus on national targets for reducing knife crime and domestic violence. Important though those issues are, this has led to a loss of local intelligence and a reduction of time that beat cops have to spend at street level.

This is a source of immense frustration for hard-working police officers in our city who can no longer attend community councils regularly or build relationships with young people or community leaders. Ask any one of them, should you be lucky enough to encounter one in your street. And believe me, your street is where they’d rather be, instead of dealing with a mountain of bureaucracy and Strathclyde-centric targets, issued from central command.

The basic principle of policing by public consent is at risk here. Highland council recently passed a motion objecting to the arming of police in Highland communities. This was roundly ignored by Police Scotland. It’s a worrying situation when the only democratically-elected voice that Police Scotland listen to is that of Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Put simply, the SNP’s policies in this area have strangled local accountability and responsiveness in policing. For me, that represents a material danger to the freedoms and the safety we enjoy in our society.

The Liberal Democrats want to see localism reinstated at the heart of our police force. We want to empower Edinburgh City Council to have a say in the focus of policing efforts in the Capital and we want to give divisional commanders the autonomy to respond to that direction.

Whether it’s the horrific case of the couple left unattended for three days following a fatal car crash on the M9; the break-up of dedicated house burglary teams in Edinburgh; or the crushing levels of staff moral reported in a recent survey within the force – the majority of Edinburgh residents will tell you the Police Scotland experiment has failed. It’s time to comprehensively reform the way we do policing in this country.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Western in the Scottish Parliament. He is also number one on the party’s list of candidates for the Lothian Region