I have nothing but admiration and respect for our police officers. They face dangers too numerous to list to keep us safe. For that, we are all immensely grateful.
But the public’s recent frustration, which has grown steadily over recent months, isn’t aimed at those frontline Bobbies. Those who must answer the concerns of people across the city sit much further up the chain of command and with the Scottish Government.
The hierarchy of Police Scotland has faced a growing list of criticism recently. Armed patrols responding to routine calls; more citizens in Scotland, including children, were being stopped and searched by police than even in London; police stations shut; call centres closed; and thousands of civilian posts gone to be backfilled by officers who should be on the street.
If previous problems with Police Scotland set alarm bells ringing, the latest incident should be a siren warning to those who still claim the new force is working. The tragic deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill, who were left in a crashed car for several days, has shocked. The performance of the police service in this incident was the latest in a long line of failings. It is right that there are very serious questions being asked of the Chief Constable and the Scottish Government.
Problems exist nationally but I’m most concerned with local policing. As the biggest survey ever conducted on policing in Edinburgh showed last week, housebreaking was the top issue for the city. That’s not surprising given the 23 per cent jump in housebreaking over the past eleven months. Indeed, this is not the first time I’ve mentioned it, reflecting the increasing frustration and fears I hear most weeks from constituents.
Positive steps have been taken to address housebreaking problems and officers should be commended for their efforts. But I can’t help feel that it’s too little, too late. It also confirms the centralising force of Police Scotland and the “Glasgowisation” culture – a one-size-fits-all approach – just doesn’t work for our city.
We see diluted Safer Neighbourhood Teams which community organisations, such as the Inch Community Association, fought for and helped build, hand-in-hand with local politicians and officers. Now the police couldn’t feel further away from the frontline. And it is not just the local community groups that are frustrated at the dilution of community policing, but the officers themselves who tell me privately that “the job is not the same” and “morale in the service is low”. I’ve also been told key initiatives have been scrapped “because the success of them perversely make the crime figures rise and that is not wanted for political reasons”.
On housebreaking, community policing and on the general police service, the Edinburgh public tell me they feel let down by Police Scotland and it is simply not good enough for the Scottish Government to pass the buck to the police. They have to take responsibility and sort it out.
The Scottish Government and those at the top of Police Scotland have together presided over cuts to services, the loss of civilian staff, a lack of transparency over stop-and-search, and armed policing. Let’s keep the spotlight on the Justice Secretary and the Chief Constable – we need policing that Edinburgh residents can have full confidence in.
It’s always the case that the fear of crime outstrips actual crime and Edinburgh remains a very safe place to live. However, my constituents are raising with me more and more regularly their fear of crime and their reducing confidence in the police. I hope that Police Scotland hear these calls from local people and respond positively.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South and Shadow Scottish Secretary