the word “ancillary” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary in the following way, “in addition to something else, but not as important”.
It describes lower grade kind of stuff, the non-essentials, things that you can get round to later if there’s time.
It seems an odd way to describe the reporting of crime at a police station, as force chiefs have done in recent days.
Most of us would agree that the ability to do that – to walk into a station and talk to an officer – is actually very important.
You learn so much more from a face-to-face meeting, especially with an officer you might get to know over time, than you ever will talking to a stranger over the phone. Little things like whether or not there is a thief breaking into neighbourhood garages at the moment. And, more importantly, officers will glean so much more too.
It seems madness to lock the doors of police stations and bar the public when there are still officers inside who can speak to them. It is putting up barriers between police and the public that do not need to be there.
The fact is that having police stations in our neighbourhoods is one of the things that makes us feel safer. And there is still a suspicion that these changes are a prelude to closing some stations altogether.
Of course the police service has to modernise and find more efficient ways of working. They should be encouraging us to contact them by phone, email, social media, and so on. They should be basing themselves in supermarkets too – after all, they are one of the few places we all go these days.
But the 100,000 people who last year used the the police counters facing the axe in the Lothians showed they value this service.
The debate, however, is about more than numbers. And it is about more than bricks and mortar. It is about the place of the police in society. We want them at the heart of our communities.