Today marks the beginning of the biggest milestone in policing in Scotland for a generation – with the newly-formed Police Service of Scotland becoming ‘live’.
This historic event sees the eight existing forces and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and Scottish Police Services Authority come together to become a single service known as Police Scotland.
From today, Police Scotland will deliver effective front-line policing in a way that has never before been seen in this country. Crime is at a 37-year low and since 2007, this government has ensured an extra 1000 officers are keeping our communities safe. The introduction of a single service will safeguard those gains from Westminster cuts. It will also reduce duplication and improve efficiency and there is no doubt that people across Edinburgh and the Lothians can expect a better value service than ever before.
It is clear Scotland needs a police service that best meets the needs of its communities, particularly those who are the most vulnerable and in need of protection. Criminals do not recognise lines on a map and neither should the police. Stripping these artificial boundaries away will make the police in Scotland stronger. Resources can be targeted to areas that need them and expertise and best practice will be shared. No longer will communities experience differing levels of service depending on their proximity to specialist services and central bases.
Instead, the single service will ensure equal access to national expert teams including major investigation squads and firearms officers, whenever and wherever they are needed.
Keeping people safe and responding to the needs of communities is at the very heart of the new service, and the plans that have been put in place will ensure that previous good work is built upon and developed.
In Edinburgh, the existing divisional structure will remain and will be led by Chief Superintendent Mark Williams – however, officers will be more flexibly and accurately deployed to areas where they are needed. In East, Mid and West Lothian there will be a more significant shift in how policing is delivered which will make response in the Lothians and Scottish Borders more efficient and streamlined. This work will be taken forward by Chief Superintendent Jeanette McDiarmid who has a wealth of experience in territorial policing.
Today, on day one, the transition should be smooth and seamless and the public are unlikely to see a significant shift, but in the background officers are primed and ready to take the first steps into a new era in policing. If there is a serious crime or a major incident throughout the course of today – or any time after that – then you can be assured that Police Scotland is prepared and fully equipped to deal with it.
The Police Service of Scotland is not a “one size fits all” model and it is essential that local policing teams listen to communities to address the issues that matter to them. As such, I am delighted there will be a local commander for each area to work with communities and partners to shape policing. And local policing plans have been drawn up for each council ward in Scotland to allow for more targeted work on specific community concerns. I know a lot of effort has gone into developing ways to speak to your local policing team to influence future priorities and I hope people make full use of these. Scotland now has a police service that listens to the people it serves and acts on issues and concerns that they have.
There are some crimes that are a particular scourge on Scotland as a whole and may not necessarily be restricted to one area of the country. I know Chief Constable Stephen House, who will lead the new service, has plans to tackle areas such as alcohol and violent crime, domestic abuse and rape on a national level whilst balancing local needs. These crimes can affect anyone from any walk of life, and I am delighted that focus will be placed upon these. Alcohol-related violent crime costs the Scottish economy millions of pounds a year, and the disastrous consequences of drunken brutality can have a lasting effect on victims. Similarly, domestic abuse and rape are crimes that leave emotional scars long after the bruises have faded – there is simply no excuse for this behaviour in 21st century Scotland and it has no place in society. Police Scotland’s focus on this will be a welcome development and I look forward to hearing about their results.
Meanwhile, the Specialist Crime Division will be a key strength and benefit of the new service, with 2000 officers and staff brought together to lead the fight against crime using national expertise delivered locally to tackle and prevent major crimes and serious organised crime.
In these times of economic uncertainty, it is natural that police staff may be concerned about their jobs. I understand that. Let me make it very clear that the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring there are no compulsory redundancies and Police Scotland, along with the Scottish Police Authority, will be focused on ensuring a balanced workforce which works together to keep our communities safe and strong.
Policing in the Lothians – and across Scotland – is excellent. I know Police Scotland is in an excellent position to safeguard all communities hold dear about their local policing, and continue this good work while offering all the benefits of a single service. Communities in Scotland can feel safer than ever before as there is no doubt there has never been a more sophisticated policing model in Scotland.
• Kenny MacAskill is the Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary and SNP MSP for Edinburgh Eastern.